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British Industrial History

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Aluminium Co

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December 1889.

of 115 Cannon Street, London, EC, and Works at Oldbury, near Birmingham

c.1881 Hamilton Young Castner (of New York) started work to improve the production of aluminium.

c.1886 Castner claimed success in experiments with an improved method of producing aluminium in large quantities at one third of the cost of aluminium produced by the current version of the Deville Process by reducing by 80% the cost of sodium from which the aluminium was obtained. Experimental works were erected at Lambeth[1].

1887 After 18 months of further experiments, a company was formed , with capital of £400,000, to work the Castner patents and take over the business of the Aluminium Crown Metal Co. of James Webster, with Castner as managing director. Construction started of a plant at Oldbury to make sodium and aluminium on a commercial scale[2].

1887 Application to quote Aluminium Co's shares on the London Stock Exchange[3].

1888 Demonstration of first production at the Oldbury plant was attended by Right Hon A. J. Balfour MP, Lord Rayleigh, Mr A. M. Chance, several Fellows of the Royal Society and others. Of interest was the fact that the Aluminium Co received hydrochloric acid from the Oldbury Alkali Co whose works were on the opposite bank of the canal; this was used for making the aluminium chloride double salt used in the processes; residual carbonate of soda was returned to Messrs Chance[4].

1889 The production of aluminium by the Castner process and the possibilities this offered for its use in wire, decorative wares and, as alloys, in construction were described at the Royal Society of Arts; the Oldbury works produced aluminium which was 98% pure [5].

1891 The process used could not compete with the even cheaper electrolytic method of aluminium production introduced by Hall and Heroult in 1889, so in 1891 the Aluminium Co. abandoned its manufacture of aluminium.

1894 Hamilton Castner was managing director of the Oldbury works. In order to overcome problems with impurities in caustic soda, Castner had invented a new process for its manufacture based on electrolysis of salt to make chlorine and caustic soda, using a mercury bath with a diaphragm to control mercury losses.[6]. This would be a keen competitor to the Solvay Process for making soda and the Allhusen process for making chlorine[7].

1895 It was then found that Dr Kellner had made a similar invention which had been licensed to Solvay et Cie. An agreement was reached to pool the patents in a joint company, Castner Kellner Co, which was formed as a public company to work, in Great Britain and the British Colonies (except Canada), the patents of Mr Hamilton Y. Castner and Dr Carl Kellner for the manufacture of caustic alkali and bleaching powder. Arrangements had been made with the Aluminium Co of London Ltd, the owners of the Castner patents, and Messrs Solvay et Cie, sole owners by purchase (except for Austria) of the Kellner patents[8].

1895 Aluminium Co's AGM was told that the Castner patents for manufacture of soda had been sold throughout the world. The US rights to another patent by Castner had also been sold but the nature of the invention was kept secret. Referring to the shares held in Castner Kellner Co, the concerns about use of mercury were discussed; Solvay et Cie had secured these patents and were erecting large scale plant and had invested in the English company[9].

1896 Income received from shareholdings in Castner Kellner Co and Mathiesen Alkali Co of USA[10].

1896 with the implementation of the electrolytic process by British Aluminium Co using cheap hydro-electricity in the Highlands of Scotland and the opening of the first hydro-electric powered smelter in 1896, the Deville process soon became uneconomic.

The electrolytic manufacture of sodium became the company's main business

1900 Castner Kellner Co agreed to purchase the Aluminium Co[11].

1900 Advertised for sale: freehold manufacturing property at Oldbury, previously occupied by the Aluminium Co which business subsequently moved to Weston Point, near Runcorn,[12] the location of the new owners.

1906 The manufacturing of sodium was moved to a new plant built for the purpose at Wallsend, Northumberland

1929 The Wallsend plant closed.

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. The Times, 30 July 1888
  2. The Times, 30 July 1888
  3. The Times, 3 September 1887
  4. The Times, 30 July 1888
  5. The Times, 16 March 1889
  6. Biography of Hamilton Castner, ODNB [1]
  7. The Times, 20 September 1894
  8. The Times, 23 October 1895
  9. The Times, 12 November 1895
  10. The Times, 8 August 1896
  11. The Times, 9 August 1900
  12. The Times, 17 November 1900
  • Archives of the British chemical industry, 1750-1914: a handlist. By Peter J. T. Morris and Colin A. Russell. Edited by John Graham Smith. 1988.