The History of Aluminium Industry

The production of primary aluminium is a young industry - just over 100 years old. But it has developed to the point where scores of companies in some 35 countries are smelting aluminium and thousands more are manufacturing the many end products to which aluminium is so well suited. For its first half century the aluminium industry pursued the dual role of improving and enlarging production processes to reduce the price of the metal and, at the same time, proving the worth and feasibility of aluminium in a wide range of markets. Such was the dynamic approach of the industry to this problem that the consumption of aluminium gained the remarkable record of doubling every ten years. The strong demand for aluminium stimulated the rapid expansion of productive capacity to meet it.

The first World War had a dramatic effect on aluminium production and consumption. In the six years between 1914 and 1919 world output soared from 70,800 tonnes to 132,500 tonnes a year and it is a striking testimony to the adaptability of the metal that after the very large expansion occasioned by war the ground was held. Once the changeover to civilian production had been carried through the increased capacity was occupied before very long in supplying the normal demands of industry. And this happened again, on a much larger scale, as a result of the Second World War.

World production of primary aluminium increased from 704,000 tonnes in 1939 to a peak of 1,950,000 tonnes in 1943, after which it declined considerably. At the end of World War II, the western world industry had completed an unprecedented threefold expansion in capacity in the space of four to five years. Civilian markets had to be developed for this new capacity. The demand for aluminium proved to be elastic and the expanded facilities were working at near capacity in a matter of a few years.

Constant research and product development throughout the 1950s, 60s and 70s led to an almost endless range of consumer goods incorporating aluminium. Its basic benefits of lightness, strength, durability, formability, conductivity and finishability made it a much sought after product. The necessity for the industry itself to pioneer the use of aluminium led to an integrated structure in the major companies from the mining of bauxite to, in some cases, the finished consumer product. As the total world production soared, countries with raw materials and especially those with cheap energy resources began to enter the market with primary metal for others to further the process. Today a significant proportion of metal is marketed in this way.

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