Pure aluminum was discovered only in 1825; by that time, several metals and alloys already had been in common use for several thousand years. Interestingly, Persian potters had been using aluminum to strengthen clay in ancient times but it was too difficult to extract pure aluminum. Even for several years after 1825, aluminum was considered a rare and precious metal, like gold and silver.
By 1891 -- and thanks largely to the Hall-Heroult electrolytic reduction process -- aluminum began to be produced in larger amounts for use in diverse products. These included kitchen utensils, power lines, automobiles and light bulbs.
Today, the United States produces more than 5.6 million tons (5.1 million metric tons) of aluminum a year [source: International Aluminum Institute]. A large percentage of this goes into making beverage cans; we produce 300 million cans a day and 100 billion a year [source: Can Manufacturers Institute].
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