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History of Cobalt Alloys

Ancient Knowledge of Cobalt

The Egyptians were first using cobalt around 2000 BC. Although it was not identified then as "cobalt", it was added to glass products to create the traditional blue coloring that we now call cobalt blue.

We first hear of "cobalt" by in German name "Kobald" from silver miners in the Erzgebirge region of Saxony. The term "Kobald" referred to spirits, gnomes, or gremlins who were believed to frequent the mines causing trouble. When the silver miners' had unknown problems with the silver they were mining or with their health, they blamed "Kobald". Often their respiratory issues were actually caused by cobalt interfering with the silver smelting which produced arsenic that the miners breathed.


Discovery of Cobalt

Cobalt is a hard, ferromagnetic, metallic element that was discovered by Swedish chemist George Brandt in 1739. It is usually recovered as a by-product of mining and refining nickel, silver, lead, copper and iron.

Many of our commercial cobalt-base alloys are derived from the cobalt-chromium-tungsten and cobalt-chromium-molybdenum ternaries first investigated in the early part of the 20th century by Elwood Haynes. Haynes discovered the high strength and stainless nature of the binary cobalt-chromium alloy. Later he identified tungsten and molybdenum as powerful strengthening agents within the cobalt-chromium system. When he discovered these alloys, Haynes named them the Stellite alloys after the Latin stella (star) because of their star-like luster. Having discovered their high strength at elevated temperatures, Haynes promoted the use of Stellite alloys as cutting tool materials. With Haynes' Stellite alloys, modern uses of cobalt include the development of Alnico magnets in Japan and the use of cobalt to bind tungsten carbide in Germany.

Right up to the 20th Century, the primary use of cobalt was as a coloring agent. Cobalt was only available or used as an oxide.

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