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December 6th is Charles Martin Hall's birthday. Hall was an American chemist who discovered a method to extract aluminum from alumina (aluminum oxide). Before this process, aluminum was difficult to isolate as a metal. The cost of pure aluminum metal was higher than gold, sometimes known as the "Metal of Kings". Hall's process was simple, inexpensive and revolutionized the use of the lightweight metal. Hall also has a role in the spelling difference of the element between the United States and the rest of the English speaking world.

English chemist Humphry Davy originally named the element aluminum after the mineral alumina and later changed it to aluminum. Other chemists felt the name did not conform to the -ium suffix of other element Davy named. No standard was set and both spellings, aluminum and aluminium appeared in scientific journals throughout the 19th Century. In the United States, the -ium spelling was dominant and appeared in Webster's Dictionary in that form.

In 1888, Hall was advertising his new technique and created a handbill describing his methods that used the -um spelling. It is generally believed this was an accidental misspelling and his process was so revolutionary that the spelling stuck in the American press and people who began working with the metal. By 1926, the American Chemical Society officially adopted aluminum as the 'proper' spelling in their publications.

Find out more about aluminum vs. aluminium and what else occurred on this day in science history.


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