In 1884, when the Washington Monument was completed, a six pound cone of aluminum was placed at the very top. Its high electrical conductivity and corrosion resistance had many seeking an economical method of winning the remarkable new metal from its oxide ore. That very year, Charles Martin Hall began his legendary experiments to produce aluminum.
Under the guidance of Professor Frank Jewett, Hall worked on his experiments in an old woodshed, and in 1885, obtained his first globules of the shiny metal. To do this, he not only had to devise the very method to isolate the metal but had to fabricate most of his apparatus and prepare all of his chemicals. He recognized that electrolysis could provide the potent reduction conditions that were needed. However, to obtain enough electricity for the experiments meant that he personally had to build numerous batteries to produce adequate energy. After much trial and error, Hall attempted to prepare aluminum by fused-salt electrolysis. On February 23, 1886, he let the electric current run for several hours, then cooled the melt and broke it open. There lay several silvery globules of shiny aluminum. A group of investors then provided the crucial backing he needed while at the Pittsburgh Reduction Company (now ALCOA) working to bring his process up to commercial scale. Within two years, aluminum was being produced faster than markets for its use could be developed.
This ingenious man who discovered a low-cost method for making aluminum, gained world-wide recognition and in 1911 was awarded the prestigious Perkin Medal.