February 23, 1886

On February 23, 1886, scientist and inventor Charles Martin Hall, along with his older sister, Julia Brainerd Hall, produced the first samples of man-made aluminum. Aluminum is the most abundant metal found throughout the world, but it wasn’t until that point, that it could be used as a metal, as it was always bonded with other elements to form compounds. After finally processing the aluminum compounds and breaking them down to get to the pure, light weight metal, Charles’s sister asked him what he was going to name it. He said he liked the sound of ‘aluminum’. Julia told him that aluminum sounded nice and was a good name for his discovery, but he needed to be wary of the ‘posh’ British scientists, as something as good and solid as the name, aluminum, just wasn’t high-faluting enough for them. She warned him that they might try and change it to something more latiny, such as ‘aluminium’ just to nob it up. Charles was aghast and protested to his sister and said, “But our fellow Brits, they’d never think to appropriate the naming of another man’s discovery, just because it wasn’t posh enough for their gentlemanly sensibilities.” You guessed it. The Brits immediately poshed the name up to aluminium to Charles Martin Hall’s horror and protestations. While across the Atlantic, the Americans took Charles’s side and said, “Nope, not going to do it. Charles wanted it called aluminum, and that’s what we’re going to call it.” If John Wayne had been born yet, he would have been proud.

About Joel Byers

Born in North Georgia and educated at some very fine public institutions. Real education started after graduating from college and then getting married and raising two boys. Has the ability to see the funny and absurd in most things and will always remark on it, even if it means getting the stink-eye from his victims.
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One Response to February 23, 1886

  1. Raymond Luxury-Yacht says:

    Mr. Byers,

    I read your most recent historical article with some interest and not a small amount of incredulity. While I will acknowledge a degree of low-brow humour, I am also forced to recognise the factual errors and absurdity of your overall premise.

    Firstly, the element in question was initially named “alumium”, which was almost universally hated by the scientific community. In response, he did choose “aluminum”, which (like many words) has a different spelling and pronunciation is different parts of the world.

    As is almost always the case, Great Britain and the rest of the English-speaking world spell and pronounce it one way and the United States spells and pronounces it another. And while you portray this has somehow being admirable, it is in fact, quite silly.

    There is a reason that element names end in “ium” instead of “um”. Imagine how ridiculous it would be if “lithium” was “lithum”, “magnesium” was “magnesum”, or “platinium” was “platinum”? Madness!

    If we were possessed of a microphone, please consider it well and truly dropped.

    With Regards,
    The High Honourable Raymond Luxury-Yacht

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