The story of Alcoa
, like many an entrepreneurial tale, began 125 years ago with a few 20-something chemists in Pittsburgh knocking around with science and figuring out a formula to simplify the way metal is made.
Charles Martin Hall, with an assist from his sister, Julia, a chemist in her own right, discovered the process of aluminum reduction through electrolysis. The year was 1886.
Within 15 years, Alcoa was pioneering aluminum cooking utensils under the Wear Ever brand, the beginning of 12 decades of innovation that started in Pittsburgh.
This week 400 employees and a handful of dignitaries gathered at Alcoa on the North Shore to kick off a week-long celebration of the company’s 125th
birthday. Alcoa employees at operations around the world are blowing party horns and wearing royal blue tees in celebration.
“These are giants whose shoulders we are standing on,” said Klaus Kleinfeld, CEO, of the early pioneers. The company continues to grow year-over-year by 7%; the metal has been an integral ingredient in some of the greatest innovations in the world, he added.
Among the historic highlights:
The Wright Brothers’ plane might not have gotten off the ground without a lighter cast aluminum crankcase made by the Pittsburgh Reduction Company, later known as Alcoa.
The 1923 Ford Model T was the first mass-produced car to feature an aluminum body. Henry Ford, who refused to be financially dependent on one supplier, later switched to steel.
Charles Lindbergh made his historic transatlantic flight in a plane made from a new Alcoa alloy and aluminum cast engine.
In the 1930s, H.J. Heinz began using the first commercial aluminum closure made by Alcoa, called the Goldy, to seal sauces and ketchup.
The Alcoa Building downtown, with its thin stamped aluminum panels forming the exterior wall, was the world’s first aluminum-faced skyscraper in 1953.
Alcoa Mastic revolutionized the modern home with the invention of vinyl siding in 1961.
Alcoa helped NASA during the 1970s and 1980s develop a reusable transportation system for the Space Shuttle.
In 2004, Alcoa joined Pittsburgh Brewing to make the first beer in an aluminum bottle for the North American beer industry.
To mark the occasion, the Alcoa Foundation announced a $1.25 million internship program for 500 students in eight countries over the next two years. The initiative will give unemployed youth a chance to launch successful careers in manufacturing.
While Alcoa’s is based in New York City, the Pittsburgh office is the R&D center for the global operation. The company continues to develop and promote green industry technologies.
Writer: Deb Smit