The aluminum you throw away was once more precious than gold.

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When the aluminum apex of the Washington Monument was put in place in 1884, it was the largest single piece of aluminum that had ever been cast anywhere in the world. It was nine inches tall and five and a half inches on a side. Aluminum was chosen for the apex because of its excellent qualities. At the time, a pound of aluminum cost about three weeks’ wages. For a time before that, aluminum was more precious than any other metal: Napoleon III served his most important guests with aluminum cutlery, and the less important ones with mere gold or silver.

Two years after the Washington monument was completed with its expensive lightning-rod aluminum cap, American chemist Charles Hall discovered a process that would soon make extracting aluminum cheap and easy.

Nowadays, we throw aluminum in the trash without even thinking about it.

Mmm, brownies

Just this morning, this worthless aluminum foil had precious, precious brownies on it.

(It’s still cheaper to reprocess it than it is to get it from ore, though, and that’s why they’ll pay you for bringing aluminum in for recycling. Find a nearby place to recycle aluminum — or anything else — at 1800recycling.com.)

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