A feature article about how Aluminum went from being a precious metal (in its elemental form) to being cheap enough to use as a construction material, focusing on the 1880’s work of two chemists who discovered, almost simultaneously, the process to extract it.
Introduction: “In the mid-1800s aluminum was more valuable than gold. Napoléon III’s most important guests were given aluminum cutlery, while those less worthy dined with mere silver; fashionable and wealthy women wore jewelry crafted of aluminum. Today aluminum is a critical component of modern life, found in airplanes, automobiles, soft drink cans, construction materials, cooking equipment, guardrails, and countless other products. The difference between scarcity and abundance (and between obscurity and ubiquity) of this metal depended solely on scientists’ ability to find the way to release it—the third most common element in the earth’s crust by weight—from its ore.”