Chemical Element: aluminum or aluminium

(Modern Latin: chemical element; from Greek and Latin, alumen, a substance having an astringent taste; metal)

Chemical-Element Information

Symbol: Al
Atomic number: 13
Year discovered: 1825

Discovered by: Hans Christian Oersted (1777-1851), a Danish physicist; and coined in 1812 by the British chemist Sir Humphry Davy (1778-1829).

  • Crude aluminum was isolated (1825) by Hans Christian Oersted by reducing aluminum chloride with potassium amalgam.
  • Sir Humphry Davy had prepared (1809) an iron-aluminum alloy by electrolyzing fused alumina (aluminum oxide) and had already named the element aluminum; the word later was modified to aluminium in England and some other European countries.
  • A German chemist, Friedrich Wöhler, using potassium metal as the reducing agent, produced aluminum powder (1827) and small globules of the metal (1845) from which he was able to determine some of its properties.
  • Aluminum, or aluminium, is the most modern of the common metals, having been first introduced to the public in 1825 at the Paris exposition.
  • When electric power became relatively plentiful and less expensive, almost simultaneously Charles Martin Hall (1863-1914) in the United States and Paul-Louis-Toussaint Héroult (1863-1914) in France discovered (1886) the modern method of commercially producing aluminum: electrolysis of purified alumina dissolved in molten cryolite.
  • In his home laboratory, using homemade batteries, Hall devised a method of preparing aluminum by the use of an electric current, just as Davy had prepared sodium and potassium nearly eighty years before (1807).
  • He used aluminum oxide dissolved in a molten mineral named cryolite, and into it he stuck carbon electrodes.
  • Oddly enough, that same year a French metallurgist, Paul-Louis-Toussaint Héroult, with the same last initial and the same birth and death years, independently devised precisely the same system, which is called the “Hall-Héroult process”.
  • Aluminum became less expensive almost immediately, and it is now second only to steel as a structural material.
  • A combination of lightness and strength makes it ideal for aircraft.
  • Pure aluminum (99.996 percent) is quite soft and weak; commercial aluminum (99.0 to 99.6 percent pure) with small amounts of silicon and iron is hard and strong.
  • Ductile and highly malleable, aluminum can be drawn into wire or rolled into thin foil.
  • The metal is only about one-third as dense as iron or copper.
  • Though chemically active, aluminum is nevertheless highly corrosion-resistant because in air a hard, tough, oxide film forms on its surface.
  • As a result of its relative cost, aluminum is used widely for food-processing equipment, food containers, food-packaging foils, and numerous vessels for the processing of chemicals.
  • Because of its good electrical conductivity (exceeded only by gold, silver, and copper), aluminum is used as an electrical conductor, particularly for high-voltage transmission lines.
  • Aluminum alloys readily with copper, manganese, magnesium, silicon, and zinc.
  • The ancient Greeks and Romans used alum in medicine as an astringent and in dyeing processes.
  • In 1761 de Morveau proposed the name “alumine” for the base in alum. In 1807, Davy proposed the name alumium for the metal, undiscovered at that time, and later agreed to change it to aluminum.
  • Shortly thereafter, the name aluminium [note extra “i”) was adopted by IUPAC (International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry) to conform with the “-ium” ending of most elements.
  • Aluminium is the IUPAC (International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry) spelling and therefore the international standard (with the extra “i” in the last syllable).
  • Aluminium was also the accepted spelling in the U.S.A. until 1925, at which time the American Chemical Society (ACS) decided to revert back to aluminum, and to this day Americans still refer to aluminium as “aluminum” [uh LOO muh nuhm] while just about everyone else in the world spells it “aluminium” [al" yoo MIN ee uhm].

Name in other languages:

British: aluminium

French: aluminium

German: Aluminium

Italian: alluminio

Spanish: aluminio

Information about other elements may be seen at this Chemical Elements List.

A special unit about words that include chemo-, chem- may be seen here.