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British Industrial History

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Hamilton Young Castner

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Hamilton Young Castner (1859-1899)

Castner was a scientist, engineer and industrialist best known in the field of industrial electrochemistry.

1859 Hamilton Castner was born in New York City[1][2]

He studied at Brooklyn Polytechnic and at the School of Mines, Columbia University. With a view to reducing the cost of manufacturing alumnium, he devised a new process to produce the required sodium. He claimed to be able to make the sodium at only about 7% of its previous price, by a method involving reaction of caustic soda with iron and carbon, and he filed American and British patents for this in 1886.

1886 Unable to find backers in America, Castner moved to England to gain financial backing through his connections in the SCI[3]. Here his invention soon won the interest of James Webster

1887 They created the Aluminium Co. Ltd to exploit Castner's invention and take over Webster's business. Castner himself became managing director.

By 1890 he had married Cora[4]

1890 Castner devised a different process for the manufacture of sodium, by electrolysis of molten caustic soda, a method which was to establish itself as the chief industrial process for sodium until about 1920.

When the need for sodium in his process for manufacturing aluminium disappeared, Castner applied the metal instead to the manufacture of sodium compounds, including the bleaching agent sodium peroxide, and particularly sodium cyanide for which there was then a rapidly growing market in the world's gold-mining industry. The licensing of Castner's sodium process in 1895 to the Niagara Electrochemical Co., USA, helped towards restoring the Aluminium Co.'s financial position.

Castner's most successful invention was a process for making caustic soda by electrolysis of brine, for which he developed his famous rocking cell. Rights to work this process in the USA were sold in 1895 to the Mathieson Alkali Co. at Saltville, and in the same year the Aluminium Co. created the Castner-Kellner Alkali Co.

1899 Castner died in New York[5]

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. 1870 US Federal Census
  2. U.S. Passport Application
  3. SCI [1]
  4. U.S. Passport Application
  5. National Probate calendar
  • Archives of the British chemical industry, 1750-1914: a handlist. By Peter J. T. Morris and Colin A. Russell. Edited by John Graham Smith. 1988.