A Legacy of Innovation

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Our History

Through hard work, we launched an industry and changed the world

At Alcoa, we believe our legacy is our call to action. Dating back to 1886, we launched an industry with our world-changing discovery that made aluminum an affordable and vital part of modern life. With an unrivaled foundation of operational excellence, we’ve spent more than a century refining our processes to develop next-generation technologies that shape how we live, build, move and fly.

Discover Alcoan innovations that changed the world.

Our Innovation Timeline

1886

Charles Martin Hall Discovers the Smelting Process

Working with his sister Julia in a shed attached to the family home in Oberlin, Ohio, chemistry student Charles Martin Hall discovers a way to produce aluminum through electrolysis that drastically reduces its cost. Around the same time, the same process is discovered by chemist Paul T. Héroult of France, and it comes to be known as the Hall-Héroult Process. Today, the Hall-Héroult Process is the one method by which every aluminum producer in the world operates.

1891

New Kensington: Cradle of Aluminum Innovation

As demand for the new metal grows, Alcoa moves its operations from Pittsburgh to nearby New Kensington, where it scales up to produce aluminum ingots as well as fabricated aluminum products.

1903

Alcoa Aluminum Gives Flight to Wright Brothers Invention

The world’s first flying machine is powered by an aluminum heart made from Alcoa’s new metal. To save weight, the engine block and crankcase of the Wright Brothers' historic "Flyer" are cast from aluminum supplied by The Pittsburgh Reduction Company.

1916

First Aerospace Alloy

Alcoa's first aerospace alloy, 2017-T4, is a critical material for building the historic USS Shenandoah rigid airship. A century later, 2017-T4 is still used for aircraft sheet and plate. More than 90% of all alloys currently used in the aerospace industry were developed by Alcoa research.

1930

The World’s First Aluminum Research Laboratory

On a hill overlooking the Allegheny River and Alcoa's production facility along its banks in Pittsburgh, the company builds a campus-like facility dedicated to finding new aluminum applications, testing its performance and improving production processes.

1952

First Aluminum-Sheathed High-Rise Building

Featuring an all-aluminum exterior and many other innovative architectural elements, the Alcoa Building in Downtown Pittsburgh is completed. It will serve as the company’s headquarters for more than 40 years. It also ushers in a new era of high-rise buildings clad in Alcoa aluminum.

1962

The Can Opener Becomes Extinct

Alcoa works with the Pittsburgh Brewing Company to introduce easy-open aluminum pull tabs on cans of Pittsburgh Brewing's Iron City beer. Today, because of innovations like the pull tab, and because of aluminum's recyclability, the canned beverage market is virtually 100% aluminum.

1979

Alcoa Recycling is Born

Alcoa Recycling Company is incorporated to support the company’s goal of enhancing sustainability by increasing its recycling activity. Aluminum is infinitely recyclable, and recycling uses 95% less energy than it takes to make aluminum from raw ore.

1994

The First All-Aluminum Automobile

With Audi's all-aluminum A8, aluminum reaches its full potential to reduce weight, reduce emissions and boost performance. The A8's breakthrough is an all-aluminum space frame, designed and built with manufacturing techniques developed by Alcoa.

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2004

Alcoa and Pittsburgh Brewing’s Iron City Beer Debut First Aluminum Bottle

Alcoa works with Pittsburgh Brewing's iconic Iron City Beer brand to launch the first aluminum bottle to the North American beer industry. Aluminum bottles are unbreakable, keep beer colder longer, look better and recycle better than glass containers.

2016

Alcoa Separates into Two Independent Companies, Alcoa and Arconic

After 128 years of operating as a vertically integrated company, Alcoa separates its mining/refining/smelting and power businesses (retaining the name "Alcoa") from its fabrication businesses that became known as "Arconic."

2018

World’s First Carbon-Free Smelting Technology

Alcoa forms a joint venture known as ELYSISTM to commercialize a revolutionary smelting technology that Alcoa invented that eliminates all greenhouse gas emissions, instead producing pure oxygen.

2020

The First Low-Carbon Alumina Brand

Alcoa expands the Sustana? line of products with the introduction of EcoSource?, the industry’s first low-carbon, smelter-grade alumina brand. During the same year, Alcoa gains approval to globally market and sell sustainably produced products with certifications from the Aluminium Stewardship Initiative.

2021

Alcoa’s Ambition to Achieve Net-Zero GHG

Alcoa announced an ambition to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions across its global operations by 2050.

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