After World War II, the manufacture and performance of American-made canoes experienced a surge thanks to a new material: Aluminum.
Before man first wrought tools of bronze, before ancient Egyptians built the pyramids or even before written language, there were canoes. Despite newer, stronger, lighter materials, the canoe remained largely unchanged for the last 5,000 years. Canoes: A Natural History in North America reveals the evolution and design of this ancient watercraft.
This excerpt explores the then-revolutionary advancement into the first aluminum canoes—made right here in the U.S.A.
THE FIRST OF THE POST-WORLD WAR II CANOES to hit the market successfully in a material other than wood were built of aluminum—not a synthetic material, but not an element with a huge market share in mass-produced boats. Aluminum had a brief history with watercraft, full of stops and starts and mostly dead ends.
Although aluminum is the world’s most common metal, it is not found lying around by itself in huge veins, ready to be mined. It is almost always mixed in ores, such as bauxite; to be used efficiently, it must be separated from its ore and processed.
This has been done more-or-less successfully since at least the 1850s, although the real breakthrough came in the 1880s, when American Charles Martin Hall and Frenchman Paul Heroult, working independently, devised a cost-effective extraction method based on electrolysis (eventually named the Hall-Heroult process). Hall’s company, Pittsburgh Reduction, was the forerunner of Alcoa, still one of the world’s largest producers of aluminum.
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