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Charles Martin Hall

Charles Martin Hall (Dec. 6, 1863 - Dec. 27, 1914) was an American inventor, chemist, and businessman. He is best known for inventing an inexpensive method to produce aluminum in 1886.

Hall received his motivation from hearing a lecture by Oberlin College professor Frank Lanning Jewett. Jewett told his class, "If anyone should invent a process by which aluminum could be made on a commercial scale, not only would he be a benefactor to the world, but would also be able to lay up for himself a great fortune."

After many trials and failures, finally Hall found a process involving passing an electric current through a bath of alumina dissolved in cryolite which resulted in a puddle of aluminum forming in the bottom of the container. On July 9, 1886, Hall filed for his first patent.

Traveling to Pittsburgh, he was able to find other individuals who would provide the funding necessary to open a large-scale aluminum production plant. The Reduction Company later became the Aluminum Company of America, then Alcoa. Hall was a major stockholder and became wealthy.

The process of producing aluminum eventually resulted in reducing the price of aluminum so drastically that it became affordable for many practical uses. By 1900, annual production reached 8,000 tons. Today, more aluminum is produced than all other non-ferrous metals combined. Ferrous metals contain iron.

Hall continued his research and development for the remainder of his life and was granted 22 U.S. patents, most on aluminum production.

Having never married, he became one of Oberlin College’s most prominent benefactors. It is interesting to note that an aluminum statue of him exists on the campus. Because of its light weight, Hall’s statue was once known for its frequent changes in location, often due to student pranks. Today the statue is glued to a large granite block and sits more permanently on the second floor of Oberlin’s new science center.

Today Alcoa provides aluminum to many car manufacturers as this product is much lighter in weight than iron or steel and is very strong. In fact, the new Ford F-150 has used aluminum on the hood of their pick-up. In order to achieve better gas mileage, car companies are always looking to make their cars lighter while at the same time ensuring strength.

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