Aluminum Foil (1870)

Michael Quinion TheEditor at WORLDWIDEWORDS.ORG
Sun Apr 6 08:34:01 UTC 2003

> "Aluminum foil" is not an entry in OED (earliest cite 1946?).
> It's been used to wrap food in.

Our crazy British spellings have confused you. "Aluminium foil" is
there, defined as "paper-thin sheet aluminium, used as wrapping
material, etc", though no citation exists for that sense under the
heading. The earliest example is 1892, concerning its use as an
alternative to magnesium in photographic flash guns. The earliest
example of general scientific use is 1931, of food wrapping 1962.

MoA can match your earliest example:

1870 Fresenius, C. Remigius "A system of instruction in
quantitative chemical analysis" 14 With respect to the material
most suitable for the manufacture of weights, we commonly rest
satisfied with having the smaller weights only, from 1 or 0.5
gramme downwards, made of platinum or aluminium foil, using brass
weights for all the higher denominations.

That equation is a good illustration of the cost of aluminium at
that period, as it only became affordable after the electrolytic
process was commercialised in the early 1890s. Also, it shows that
the metal's name was usually spelled "aluminium" in the USA at that
date (the book was published by John Wiley in New York).

Michael Quinion
Editor, World Wide Words
E-mail: <TheEditor at>
Web: <>

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