The Cleveland section of the ACS presented a plaque to Oberlin College at a campus ceremony September 17. The plaque will be mounted on the wall above the statue of Charles Martin Hall in the Kettering Hall of Science. Though Hall's discovery was momentous, it took place in a less-than-auspicious setting.
On February 23, 1886, in a makeshift laboratory housed in a woodshed behind his family's house in Oberlin, Hall ran electric current through a fiery solution of aluminum oxide and molten cryolite for several hours.
Then, as his father and three sisters watched, Hall cooled the melt and broke it open. Inside, he found several small, silvery globules, which he tested with hydrochloric acid. He took them to his chemistry professor, Frank Fanning Jewett, who confirmed that they were aluminum.
"Hall's remarkable work in the electrochemistry of aluminum was a very early instance of a fruitful research collaboration between an undergraduate chemistry student and a college professor," said Oberlin President Nancy S. Dye.
Hall had worked on aluminum chemistry under Jewett's guidance for over five years.
By 1888, Hall was producing pure aluminum on an industrial scale in Pittsburgh. He went on to become the co-founder of Alcoa and the possessor of a sizable fortune. He bequeathed $13 million, upon his death in 1914, to Oberlin.
Return to the ATS-September 1997 Table of Contents