With apologies to anyone who may have been visiting this page thinking about this peace pole, I have decided to stop making aluminum peace poles. Stainless steel is so much stronger, lasts so much longer, and is the same amount of work.
If you had been invited to have dinner with Napoleon you would have eaten on silver plates. If you were someone special, you would have eaten on gold. If you were really special, you would have eaten on platinum. But if you were really, really special, you would have eaten on aluminum.
It was that rare and expensive. It was so prestigious in addition to being durable that it was chosen for the cap on the Washington Monument (stainless steel did not exist yet). The pyramidal top of the Washington Monument is made out of six pounds of aluminum.
Back then it was worth more than gold and chiefly used for jewelry.
More of the history of aluminum:
In the 1800s a series of chemists in different countries made discoveries about aluminum including, in 1886, an electrolytic process to isolate it from its oxide so inexpensively it became affordable.
The way I heard that happened was this.
Charles Martin Hall was a student at Oberlin College in Ohio in the early 1880s when, on a Friday at the end of a chemistry class, the teacher, who apparently had not prepared a homework assignment, off-handedly told them that over the weekend they were to describe the way to extract aluminum from its oxide. Because of the off-handed way it had been assigned, Hall assumed it must be something any student could figure out. When he couldn’t he kept trying. He spent the whole weekend on it. Monday, in class, the teacher asked if anyone had solved the problem. One hand raised. The teacher asked to see the student’s work. Shortly thereafter they hurried to Washington to patent it. Which was a good thing because a chemist in France was figuring out the same method at the same time. The method came to be named after both the student and the French chemist. And it made aluminum inexpensive enough to make peace poles out of it.
By the way, I was told by a reader of this page, Kevin Springman, who studied in the Wright Physics Lab at Oberlin, where every year in the chemistry lab there they ring an aluminum bell, that it was called the Wright Physics Lab because it had been a gift from Oberlin graduate Katherine Wright, the sister of the Wright Brothers (who was written out of the story by Orville after Wilbur’s death).
The story goes that Katherine’s brothers needed a large amount of extremely expensive aluminum to build a lightweight engine for their flying machines. Their sister, Katherine, contacted her fellow student from her college years, Charles Martin Hall, who had just founded ALCOA in Pittsburgh. Charles sent a boxcar of aluminum to the Wright Brothers to help enable them continue developing their flying machine .
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