Aluminum Company of America Photographs

What’s online?

The Aluminum Company of America online photograph collection contains images dating from the 1870s through 1960s. The collection includes images of the Alcoa’s founders, employees, factories, and products.

What’s in the entire collection?

The Aluminum Company of America Photographs comprise 32 linear feet and include images of employees, plants and subsidiaries, and products. The collection includes prints, oversized prints, photograph albums, gelatin dry plate negatives (glass plate negatives), transparencies, 35mm, 4x5 and 8x10 negatives that date between the late 1800s and 1988.  

About Alcoa

The Aluminum Company of America (Alcoa), formerly the Pittsburgh Reduction Company, was incorporated in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on September 18, 1888. The company was founded by George H. Clapp, Millard Hunsicker, Captain Alfred E. Hunt, Horace W. Lash, W.S. Sample, and Robert J. Scott, who contributed a total of $20,000 in capital. The formation of the company was made possible by a new process of smelting aluminum which was invented by Charles Martin Hall.

The Pittsburgh Reduction Company built its first facility at the 3200 block of Smallman Street in Pittsburgh in 1888. The demand for aluminum was increasing and by September 1890 the Smallman Street Works was turning out 5,000 pounds a month. In 1891 the company, to allow for expanded production, moved its plant to New Kensington, 17 miles up the Allegheny River. The company began producing cast products (such as teakettles) and aluminum sheeting, as well as raw aluminum and in 1899 it acquired its first bauxite mining rights. The company grew and by 1907 included a reduction operation at Niagara Falls (NY), the Aluminum Cooking Utensil Company (PA), the East St. Louis Works (IL), the Massena Works (NY) , the St. Lawrence River Power Company, and the Massena Terminal Railroad. The company had numerous mines, alumina plants, hydroelectric facilities, aluminum smelters and fabricating facilities, and the Alcoa Technical Center (in Pittsburgh) for laboratory research and development. In 1907 the Pittsburgh Reduction Company changed its name to the Aluminum Company of America.

Starting in the early twentieth century Alcoa began to expand its operations overseas. Between 1920 to 1928 Alcoa set up sales offices and established operations, from ore deposits to fabricating facilities, in Europe as well as Canada and the Caribbean. Alcoa aluminum was used in buildings, airplanes, automobiles, furniture, roofing, tube and foil, impact extrusions, rolled structural shapes, electrical transmission, cooking utensils and high-fashion giftware. Additionally, Alcoa owned facilities involved in every aspect of aluminum production, from bauxite mining to hydroelectric power to fabrication plants.

After 1950 the company continued to thrive and grow. Alcoa produced more consumer goods and developed innovative ways to market aluminum. The company sponsored weekly television shows, developed more home products, such as roofing, windows and aluminum siding, and stretched the limit of aluminum. They developed key marketing strategies such as the "Alcoa Care-Free Home" and "Forecast" programs. From the 1980 to 1990s Alcoa pursued high-technology businesses on a wide front, from the aerospace industry to military applications. The company also continued its sales in packaging, automobiles, construction, vinyl siding, plastic bottles, and electrical distribution systems for cars and trucks.

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