Thursday, January 21, 2010

More Precious than Gold

As a chain maker one of the things I do is watch the precious metal market. Gold has been unceasingly climbing over the past few years - as has silver my primary metal of use. Looking at this reminds me of the stories of when gold was not the most prized metal - at one time it was of all things aluminum.

Aluminum is the most abundent metal in the Earth's crust. But it is hard to find in its pure state. Before the scientific process known as the Hall-Heroult process was discovered - which more easily removes aluminum from other ores - Aluminum was more valued than gold. One source I found cited that Napoleon III gave a banquet where the most honored guests ate from flatware made from pure almuinum while the rest of the guests "had to make do" with gold utensils.

But as a resident of the District of Columbia the most facinating fact, for me, is that the top of the Washington Monument is a pyramid of solid aluminum. And while many sources I found seemed to speak to the fact that it is aluminum because of its great value, an article shines a light on the fact that it may just have been an act of circumstance. It seems that the foundry that the monument's engineer employed to make the top was run by a man by the name of William Frishmuth, the only U.S. producer of aluminum at the time.

There is a great source for detailed information about the top of the monument available from the JOM - the Journal for the Minerals, Metals & Materials Society called "The Point of a Monument: A History of the Aluminum Cap of the Washington Monument.

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