Selected key dates in the early history of Aluminium production







Early Years


James Fern Webster 1821-1904

1808   Sir Humphrey Davy established existence of aluminium.

1826   Oersted - preparation of aluminium trichloride.

1825   Oersted – described method of reducing aluminium trichloride to metallic form using an amalgam of mercury and potassium.

1827   Wohler - modified Oersted process using volatilized aluminium trichloride that was reacted with potassium in metallic form.

1854   Deville – substituted sodium for potassium in Wohler’s process producing globules of aluminium (good size and quality).

1855   Faraday showed aluminium as a 'curiosity' at the Royal Institution.

1855   Exhibition at Musee des Arts Metiers - small ingots of aluminium by Deville. He had received financial support from Napoleon III to produce cutlery for state banquets and other items. Deville had established a small company, Societe d’Aluminium de Nanterre, to exploit the production process.

1855   First small ingots of aluminium produced by Deville presented at the Academe.

1858   Deville – took an interest in the mineral Bauxite. It required extensive purification during the production of aluminium from this source.

1858-1899   Hamilton Young Castner. Came to UK in 1886.

1869-1890   Aluminium produced at Salindres (Deville Process).

1877   Webster - started to build factory at Solihull Lodge, Hollywood (dem.1911). Outlay of £25,000.

1878   Letter dated 8 September 1878 - making 100lbs aluminium per week – all exported to France at £4 per lb (£8964 per ton; cf £100 per ton in 1940s).

1881   Webster filed patent (June 1881) for method of producing aluminium (had kept secret the method for 4 years to avoid competition - many tons of aluminium produced and stored during these 4 years in well  guarded warehouse in anticipation of future demand).

1881   Range of aluminium articles exhibited at the Crystal Palace (information from Mr Hubard, an employee of Webster, after letter in Birmingham Daily Mail (February 1939) when he met Arthur Fern Shaw.

1883   Webster's aluminium objects exhibited at Glasgow Sanitary Exhibition (first class medal).

1884   Webster exhibits in Calcutta (two gold medals).

1884   (1 January) Webster's Patent Aluminium Crown Metal Company formed. Fully subscribed capital of £500,000. Shareholders included A J Balfour (later Lord Balfour).

1884   (12 November) Casting of the original aluminium pyramid for the Washington Monument. Cast at Colonel Frishmuth's factory in Philadelphia. Pyramid weighs 5lb. The aluminium was extracted from Carolina rubies and sapphires.

1886   (June) Hamilton Y Castner came to UK. Visits Webster at Solihull Lodge – this results in the formation of a new company in 1887 with a capital of £400,000. Primary purpose to purchase Castner's patents, and to buy Webster's Patent Aluminium Crown Metal Company together with the works and patents for £240,000. New company registered at Somerset House: The Aluminium Company Ltd. In due course a factory was built at Oldbury, Staffs, and aluminium was continued to be produced until 1891 (overtaken by electrolytic process).

1883-1886   Reports available on the use of Webster's aluminium for a range of applications including: wire rope, ship engine bearings and a ship's propellor.

Post 1887 - Webster had a model factory built adjoining Fern House called Hollywood Refinery (James Webster & Co.). Continued experiments with metals. Subsequently patented a new metallic alloy and commenced to manufacture it.

1890   Castner devised a new method for producing caustic soda (chlorine and hydrogen by-products). Karl Kelner, Germany, lodged similar patent to Castner. Castner's  Aluminium Company combined with Solvay Company to form Castner-Kelner Alkali Co. - large works in Runcorn, Cheshire.

1890   An electrolytic process for the production of aluminium renders the chemical process outdated.

1955   Aluminium Centenary Exhibition at Royal Festival Hall.