6 Interesting Facts in the History of Nickel

Did you know that nickel was a part of your daily life? This unique metal is used to strengthen many different metal alloys, so you can find some nickel in stainless steel cutlery and appliances, in batteries, in food-processing equipment, in household goods, and, of course, in nickels.

This hard, silvery-white element can be found in many places inside the earth’s crust. Some of the world’s largest producers of nickel include Canada, Russia, and Australia. There are also many United States nickel projects, which are developing rapidly into lucrative and profitable ventures.

When and how was this useful metal discovered? Let’s learn more about the history of nickel:

1. Nickel has been around for a very long time

Some traces of nickel have been found in objects created as far back as 3500 BCE. However, back then, the use of this element was unintentional, as nickel had not been identified yet.

Between 1700 and 1400 BCE, the Chinese were aware of a metal they called white copper, or baitong. It was probably an alloy of nickel and silver, but they considered it a different type of copper that had a silvery-white finish.

2. Nickel was first known as the devil’s copper

An interesting fact in the history of nickel is its name. Nickel is actually first known as devil’s copper. The Chinese were probably the first ones to mistake nickel for copper, but they were not the last ones. During the 15th century, German miners found a mysterious red mineral in the Ore Mountains. They thought it was copper ore, and tried to extract it.

However, when they failed to extract any copper, they called this mineral Kupfernickel, which means “the devil’s copper”. In German mythology, Nickel was the name of the devil, and they thought this evil and mischievous spirit had tricked them with false copper.

But why was the nickel they found red instead of silvery-white? What they found back then is now known as nickeline, a mineral that consists of both nickel and arsenic. The arsenic contained in that mysterious ore made the German miners sick on top of making them confused, which to them truly appeared to be the devil’s work.

3. The nickel element was officially discovered in 1751

Nickel was officially discovered and named by Axel Fredrik Cronstedt, a Swedish baron. He was also a chemist and a mineralogist, and is now considered to be one of the founders of modern mineralogy.

When he tried to extract copper from some Kupfernickel ore found in a cobalt mine located in the Swedish village of Los, Cronstedt managed to produce a white metal that he studied, and identified as a new element. He named it nickel, and presented his discovery to the Swedish Academy of Sciences in 1751.

Afterwards, other scientists argued that what he had discovered was simply an alloy, and not a new metal. But nickel was eventually recognized as an element, represented by the atomic symbol and number Ni 28 in the periodic table of elements.

4. Nickel was eventually used in the production of different coins

Nickel is strong, ductile, malleable, and resistant to corrosion. Its properties, as well as its appearance, has made it a perfect candidate to strike coins. Coins of pure, or nearly pure nickel were struck in Switzerland and in the Netherlands.

In Canada, five-cent coins were made from pure nickel starting in 1922 and until 1942, where the metal had to be kept for manufacturing armaments for the war. The composition of the Canadian nickel has changed a few times through the years, but today, these coins are made from nickel-plated steel, as this is less expensive than striking pure nickel coins.

As for American nickels, they are made from 75% copper and 25% nickel. They have been issued since 1866, and like the Canadian nickels, their composition has changed a few times through the years.

Between 1942 and 1945, the American nickels were made from copper, silver and manganese, as all the nickel available had to be kept for the war.

5. Stainless steels were discovered in the 20th century

Stainless steels were discovered in the 20th century, and many alloys were based on nickel because it made them strong, corrosion-resistant, and able to withstand high temperatures. These stainless steels have been used for chemical plants, armor plating, jet engines, buildings, bridges, vehicle parts, shipping containers, surgical instruments, and even surgical implants.

Of course, you can also find stainless steel in your kitchen, as your cutlery, cookware, and even the finish of your refrigerator might be made from it.

On top of being corrosion-resistant, stainless steel is hygienic and easy to clean, which explains why it is largely used in the medical, dental, and food and catering industries.

6. Nickel is expected to go far in the future

Nowadays, nickel is being used more and more in electric vehicle batteries, and future batteries are expected to contain even more nickel than they do now.

Who would have thought that the devil’s copper would eventually be used to erect buildings, to design high-tech surgical tools, and to power green vehicles?

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