When Charles Martin Hall heard his chemistry professor talk about how the innovation of modern aluminum would change the world, it felt like a prophecy.
The Oberlin grad ended up transforming part of his parents’ house into a makeshift laboratory on his quest for the aluminum grail.
Although it’s the third-most abundant element in Earth’s crust, aluminum’s ability to bond with others made its extraction excruciating.
When Hall was able to inexpensively unsheathe it from aluminum oxide in 1886, the world indeed changed. By 1890 Hall became vice-president of the Aluminum Co. of America and died wealthy; his will left Oberlin College about $5 million.
Why It Matters: Lightweight and recyclable, aluminum is used to produce everything from pop cans to automobiles.