Historical Developments of Tungsten
The credit for discovering tungsten goes to the brothers Juan and Fausto Elhuyar in 1783. By heating tungsten oxide with carbon, they were able to produce the pure metal form of tungsten for the first time. However, it was not until the late 19th and early 20th centuries that the full potential of tungsten would be realized.
The Historical Significance of Tungsten
As we explore the history of tungsten into the 19th century we begin to see even further advancements in the use of tungsten. In 1847, tungsten salts were utilized to create colored cotton and fireproof clothes for theatrical purposes. By 1855, the first tungsten steels were being produced in Austria, marking a significant milestone in the mass production of steel.
The turn of the 20th century brought about a revolution in artificial lighting, thanks to tungsten. The first tungsten light bulbs were patented in 1904, rapidly replacing the less efficient carbon filament lamps on the market. Since then, tungsten filaments have illuminated the world, revolutionizing artificial lighting and transforming the way we live and work.
In the years that followed, various methods were developed to enhance the properties and applications of tungsten. For instance, the colloidal method developed by Kuzel in 1904 allowed for the creation of a gelatinous pasty mass of metallic tungsten. Another notable development was the amalgam process, successfully developed in America in 1906, which resulted in strong and exceedingly ductile tungsten filaments.
The 20th century also witnessed the rise of tungsten as a strategic metal, particularly during World War II. Its resistance to high temperatures and its ability to strengthen alloys made it an essential raw material for the arms industry. By 1922, tungsten had been placed on the first official Government list of strategic minerals in the United States. Quite a few years later the IUPAC finially made Tungsten the official name of the element over Wolframite. The origin of the tungsten name was still heavily debated at this point.
Today, tungsten continues to play a crucial role in various industries, from electronics to aerospace. Its journey from a newly discovered element to a globally recognized metal is a testament to the power of scientific discovery and technological innovation. As we delve deeper into the historical developments of tungsten, we gain a greater appreciation for this remarkable metal and its contributions to our modern world.
Tungsten’s Breakthrough in the 19th Century
The 19th century marked a period of major breakthroughs for tungsten. In 1781, Swedish chemist Carl Wilhelm Scheele first isolated tungsten from the mineral scheelite. This discovery revealed the existence of a new chemical element, which Scheele named "tungsten" meaning "heavy stone" in Swedish.
In 1855, Robert Oxland obtained a patent for manufacturing sodium tungstate, kickstarting commercial interest in tungsten compounds.
Just two years later in 1857, the first tungsten filaments made from pressed tungsten powder were created by Heinrich Göbel. These early tungsten filaments paved the way for one of the most impactful applications of tungsten - incandescent lightbulbs.
In 1878, Thomas Edison developed carbon filament bulbs, but they burned out quickly. William Coolidge later discovered how to produce ductile tungsten filament wire in 1910, making lightbulbs last significantly longer.
The development of tungsten steel alloys was another major 19th century breakthrough. In 1898, Frederick W. Taylor and Maunsel White patented tungsten steel alloys in Britain, creating a hardened steel ideal for machine tools and armor plates. This ushered in a new era in metallurgy.
By the end of the 19th century, tungsten had clearly demonstrated its potential across several major industries. The stage was set for even greater utilization and innovation involving tungsten in the 20th century.
How Has Tungsten Impacted the World?
Tungsten has significantly impacted the world in various sectors. In lighting, its high melting point and conductivity make it an ideal filament for incandescent light bulbs, contributing to global illumination. Tungsten's hardness also makes it crucial in manufacturing, where it's used to create wear-resistant tools and equipment, enhancing productivity and efficiency.
In the military, it is used in armor-piercing ammunition due to its density and strength. In electronics, it's used in making wires and contacts for its excellent electrical conductivity. In healthcare, it's utilized in radiation shielding, protecting patients and medical staff during radiological procedures.
The Development of Tungsten-Containing Steels
The development of tungsten-containing steels in the late 19th century marked a major breakthrough in metallurgy. In 1898, Robert Hadfield patented the first tungsten steel alloy containing 12-14% tungsten. This innovation ushered in a new era of alloy steels.
Patenting of Tungsten Steels
Hadfield discovered that adding tungsten to steel produced an alloy that was both hard and tough. Unlike other hard metals at the time, tungsten steel retained its hardness even after being heated and cooled repeatedly. This property made it ideal for machine tools and other applications requiring high wear resistance.
The unique properties of tungsten steel resulted from the tungsten atoms obstructing the movement of iron atoms in the crystal structure. This gave the alloy hardness while still retaining ductility from the iron. Hadfield's patenting of tungsten steel opened up an entirely new branch of metallurgy focused on alloy steels.
Birth of Self-Hardening Steels
The addition of tungsten also facilitated the development of air-hardening or self-hardening steels. In the early 1900s, researchers found that combining tungsten with other alloying elements like chromium and manganese produced steels that could harden rapidly by air cooling alone.
This eliminated the need for expensive heat treatment and allowed parts to be case hardened locally. Tungsten played a key role by promoting hardening while improving toughness. The resulting self-hardening steels found wide use in tools, bearings, and other applications.
Overall, the incorporation of tungsten marked a breakthrough in metallurgy that paved the way for modern alloy steel technology. Tungsten-containing steels laid the foundations for later high-speed tool steels and stainless steels that transformed manufacturing and construction.
Tungsten at the World Exhibition Paris 1900
The 1900 World Exhibition in Paris marked a major milestone for tungsten, providing a global platform to showcase its remarkable properties and applications. As one of the largest international expositions of its time, the event attracted over 50 million visitors from around the world.
Several key developments helped propel tungsten into the limelight at the 1900 Paris Exhibition:
The tungsten exhibits left a strong impression on engineers and innovators at the fair. The metal's unique properties were clearly highly promising for electrical, lighting, and manufacturing applications.
In the years following the 1900 Paris Exposition, tungsten rapidly emerged as an indispensable material for incandescent lamps and other cutting-edge technologies. The exposition served to spread awareness of tungsten worldwide and was a catalyst for its broad adoption across many industries.
Tungsten-containing products were no longer obscure novelties but widely recognized for their utility. The metal's stellar performance at the 1900 World's Fair laid the foundation for tungsten's rise to prominence in the 20th century.
Lighting Up the World: Tungsten Filaments
The development of the incandescent light bulb was a major breakthrough that revolutionized lighting and society. Early light bulbs used fragile carbon filaments that burned out quickly, but the introduction of tungsten filaments represented a huge leap forward.
In the early 1900s, several companies were racing to develop more durable and efficient filaments. Scientists at the German firm Siemens-Halske Co. attempted to create filaments made of tantalum and osmium, but these proved unsatisfactory. The major breakthrough came in 1904, when Hungarian inventors Just and Hanaman patented the tantalum lamp with a filament made using the amalgam process. This involved adding mercury to the tantalum to create a fine filament that could glow brightly.
However, the most successful early tungsten filament was developed by William Coolidge of General Electric in 1910. His process, known as the Coolidge Process, created a ductile tungsten wire that could be easily manipulated into a filament shape. This filament was stronger, more efficient, and longer-lasting than previous versions.
The development of the tungsten filament sparked a revolution in lighting. For the first time, homes and streets could be brightly illuminated with electric light. The longer life span of tungsten filaments also made electric lighting more affordable. Tungsten quickly became the dominant filament material, allowing the incandescent bulb to proliferate around the world.
Advancements continued to be made in tungsten filament technology throughout the early 20th century:
20th Century Advances in Tungsten Development
The early 20th century saw tungsten take on an increasingly vital role across a range of industries. Its unique properties made it perfectly suited for new applications in lighting, manufacturing, and warfare.
Revolutionizing Artificial Lighting
In 1904, Alexander Just and Franjo Hanaman were granted patents for tungsten filament light bulbs, which quickly replaced carbon filament bulbs. Tungsten's high melting point allowed it to be heated to incandescence while resisting evaporation much better than other filaments. This gave tungsten bulbs longer lifespans and higher efficiencies.
Other key innovations like William Coolidge's 1910 ductile tungsten and the 1925 Coolidge Process improved tungsten filament production. These developments ushered in tungsten's dominance in the lighting industry for decades to come.
Essential for Manufacturing and Warfare
Beyond lighting, tungsten's strength and hardness at high temperatures led to its use in electrical contacts and heating elements. It was also a key component of high-speed steel alloys used for cutting tools and machining.
For military use, Tungsten's role in WWII was critical, as tungsten was heavily used in armor-piercing ammunition. Its density made it perfect for penetrating tank armor. Tungsten-carbide cores allowed shells to punch through thick steel plate.
Tungsten's unique properties continued to find new applications throughout the 20th century. Its importance for incandescent lighting began to decline with the advent of fluorescent, LED, and other lighting technologies. However, tungsten remained vital for many industrial and military uses.
The Development of Tungsten Alloys
The development of tungsten alloys began in the early 20th century as researchers sought to improve the physical properties of pure tungsten for various applications. By alloying tungsten with other metals, scientists were able to tailor the properties like hardness, strength, and high-temperature performance.
Early Tungsten Alloy Development
One of the first significant tungsten alloys was tungsten-copper, developed in the 1910s. The addition of copper improved the ductility and machinability of tungsten while retaining its high density and strength. This allowed tungsten-copper alloys to be used for applications like radiation shielding and counterweights.
In the 1920s, researchers found that adding rhenium to tungsten greatly improved its high-temperature strength and creep resistance. Rhenium-containing tungsten alloys enabled the development of turbine blades, thermocouples, and other components for extreme environments.
Modern Tungsten Alloys
Today, tungsten is alloyed with a wide range of metals like nickel, iron, cobalt, and molybdenum to produce alloys with specialized properties. Some modern tungsten alloys include:
One of the most impactful tungsten alloys has been tungsten carbide-cobalt (WC-Co). The unique properties of this ceramic-metal composite make it ideal for drill bits, machining tools, and mining equipment.
The Future of Tungsten Alloys
Research continues into specialized tungsten alloys for emerging technologies. Areas of interest include tungsten alloys for high-temperature structural applications in aerospace, alloys with tailored coefficients of thermal expansion, and nanocrystalline alloys.
Tungsten remains a versatile base metal for alloy development. With continued research, tungsten alloys will play an important role in enabling future technologies and industries.