137 years ago today, an American inventor used electrolysis to extract aluminum from aluminum oxide, a process that eventually resulted in reducing the price of aluminum by a factor of 200, making it affordable for many practical uses from soda cans to the Wright Flyer. As small grains amid clay, it was thought by medieval alchemists to be the grains of dirt from a second, currently forming, earth. Today, more aluminum is produced than all other non-ferrous metals combined. The process was discovered by Charles Martin Hall, who helped found the Pittsburgh Reduction Company, which became the Aluminum Company of America. READ the incredible history of this taken-for-granted metal… (1886)
Petronius, the Roman author, joked of a story that upon being presented with a cup of metal that wasn’t gold, the Emperor threw it on the floor, but when he saw it didn’t break, and that it could be returned to form with a hammer, he was eager to know of the smith who made it. The smith, who was an inventor, had discovered aluminum, and after telling the Emperor that he and he alone knew how to produce such material, the Emperor ordered his execution so as not to diminish the price of gold.
Alum, the metal as it was called in the Middle Ages, was rare, but highly valued. The Ottoman Empire placed huge export taxes on its sale, and when large stores were discovered in Italy, they were described as “the death of the Turk,” and the Pope himself forbade its importation from the Ottomans in order to start a trade war. Dozens of prominent chemists over the years attempted to synthesize it and failed, until 300 years after it was established as a metal, Friedrich Wöhler managed to isolate it in a relatively pure form, albeit at double the cost per ounce of gold. Napoleon craved it for weaponry, and gave his most distinguished guests aluminum utensils instead of gold ones.
It wasn’t until two decades had passed since Charles Martin Hall discovered his electrolysis method in the 1880s, which was simultaneously discovered by Paul Héroult, in France, that aluminum became a part of everyday life. Hall’s involvement with the American Aluminum Company made him very wealthy.
Hall eventually became one of Oberlin College’s most prominent benefactors, and an aluminum statue of him exists on the campus. Because of its light weight, Hall’s statue was once known for its frequent changes of location, often due to student pranks. Today the statue is glued to a large granite block and sits more permanently on the second floor of Oberlin’s science center, where students continue to decorate Hall with appropriate trappings on holidays and other occasions. (1886)
MORE Good News on this Date:
- The Gutenberg Bible was published — first Western book printed with movable type (1455)
- Alabama became the first U.S. state to enact an antitrust law (1883)
- A Chicago attorney and three businessmen met for lunch to form the Rotary Club, the world’s first service club (1905)
- The first mass vaccination of children against polio commenced using Salk’s vaccine (1954)
- British Prime Minister Macmillan visited the Soviet Union, forging with leader Khrushchev cultural and trade links between East and West (1959)
- U.S. Daylight saving time commenced two months early in response to the energy crisis (1975)
- Norah Jones, daughter of Indian sitar player Ravi Shankar, won five Grammy Awards for her debut album “Come Away With Me.” (2003)
83 years ago today, Woody Guthrie wrote the lyrics to This Land Is Your Land in his room at the Hanover House Hotel in New York City. The song was brought back to life in the 1960s, when artists like Bob Dylan in the new folk movement were inspired by its political message. (1940)
78 years ago today, a group of U.S. Marines scaled a mountain during a battle in World War II, and hoisted the American flag as Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal captured the triumphant moment, creating one of the most iconic images in military history. The photo taken at the top of Mount Suribachi during the Battle of Iwo Jima won him a Pulitzer Prize.
Rosenthal bravely accompanied island-hopping U.S. Naval forces in the Pacific as a photojournalist, because his eyesight kept him from serving in the military. He was short of breath from climbing the 546-foot volcano, but quickly found a good vantage point for composition as the six men hoisted an iron pole with the American flag which “unfurled in a smart breeze.” Unaware at the time of the snapshot’s significance, the image was later memorialized—larger than life—in a bronze monument to soldiers in Arlington cemetery near Washington, D.C.
The fight for Iwo Jima in the Pacific Islands lasted five weeks and comprised some of the fiercest fighting in World War II, with terrible casualties on both the American and Japanese sides. (1945)
Happy 42nd Birthday to Josh Gad, the actor and singer known for his stage performance in the Broadway musical The Book of Mormon, which earned him a Tony nomination for Best Actor in a Musical. For his voicing of Olaf in Frozen, he won two Annie Awards.
Gad is the driving force behind an upcoming sequel of Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, entitled Shrunk, and reported last month that he will play Nick all grown up with Rick Moranis co-starring as his father Wayne who is still trying to perfect his shrink machine. He is also co-writing and executive-producing a Beauty and the Beast prequel series for Disney+, in which he will reprise his role as LeFou.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Gad launched the charity YouTube series Reunited Apart, which brought together the casts of popular movies, including Back to The Future, Lord of the Rings, Ghostbusters, Wayne’s World, and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, via video conferencing to raise millions of dollars for charities.
He will star in the upcoming Netflix movie Super-Normal, and in 2020 he began starring in the HBO comedy series Avenue 5. WATCH his comedy chops on Jimmy Kimmel Live in October… (1981)
Interesting trivia: Before graduating from the University School of Nova Southeastern University in 1999, Gad won the National Forensics League Tournament Championships for two years for Original Oratory, and for Humorous Interpretation and Original Oratory.
And, 155 years ago today, the African-American scholar, activist, and writer, W.E.B. Du Bois was born. A key early advocate for civil rights in the African American community, Du Bois broke ground as the first black graduate of Harvard University’s Ph.D. program. He rose from humble beginnings in a rural town to an extraordinary place of prominence on the national stage. A year after his death in 1963, the US Civil Rights Act, which embodied many of the reforms for which Du Bois had campaigned his entire life, was enacted.
Du Bois’s 1903 collection of essays, The Souls of Black Folk, and his 1935 magnum opus Black Reconstruction in America, were seminal works in African-American literature—and he wrote one of the first scientific studies in the field of American sociology. He basically founded the group that turned into the N.A.A.C.P. WATCH a mini bio… (1868)
MORE READ: Good News in History, February 24