Thursday, January 15, 2015

Arkansas Bauxite - the History of Aluminum

Copper has been worked and used by humanity for at least 11,000 years.  Tin has been extensively exploited for at least 5000 years, and iron has been used for nearly as long, but heavily for about 3000.  Aluminum, however, has been in widespread use by humanity for only about 120 years.  Nobody even knew that the metal existed until the mid-1700s, and it wasn't until 1827 that anyone succeeded in separating the pure metal from its ore.  It took another 60 years before, in 1886 and 1887, anyone found a way to separate the metal from its ores effectively enough to allow its commercial use.  But once this was achieved, it rapidly changed the world due to its strength, light weight, and electrical conductivity.  Yep... I did say electrical conductivity.  Along with making the large-scale production of airplanes and the modern science of aviation possible, aluminum was used heavily in early electrical distribution systems, though copper later replaced it.  The rock shown is a piece of Arkansas bauxite, or aluminum ore.  Arkansas produced over 75 millions tons of aluminum ore of this sort between 1898 and 1981 from a region a short distance to the southwest of Little Rock.  The area was, for a brief period, one of the nation's largest suppliers.  An excellent brochure on the history of bauxite production in Arkansas, produced by the Arkansas Geological Survey, can be found at

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