Tin metal is found in everyday life and is essential to an industrial society. In many applications, there is no completely satisfactory substitute for tin, making this metal an important strategic and geopolitical mineral. But tin’s strategic importance is nothing new … in fact, tin has been essential for a nation’s sovereignty for thousands of years.
Beyond the basics above, what else should we know about tin? Check out the 20 interesting facts below!
- Tin was first mined and processed in the area now known as Turkey around 3,500 BCE.
- 3,500 BCE: Ancient metalworkers learned to combine relatively soft copper with tin to form a much harder bronze, which could be made into tools and weapons that were more durable and stayed sharp longer. This discovery started what is known as the Bronze Age, which lasted about 2,000 years.
- A tin ring and pilgrim bottle were found in an Egyptian tomb of the eighteenth dynasty (1580–1350 BCE).
- Pewter, another alloy made of mostly tin with copper and lead, came into use shortly after the Bronze Age
- The Chinese started mining tin around 700 BCE in the province of Yunnan.
- Much of the impetus for the Roman invasion of Britain in 43 CE was to control tin trade.
- 1st century CE: Researchers excavating at the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem in 2011 discovered a button-sized piece of tin stamped with the Aramaic words for “pure for God.” According to a report in the Haaretz Newspaper, this marks the earliest artifact confirming written record of Temple worship.
- 1438: Pure tin has been found at Machu Picchu, the mountain citadel of the Incas.
- 1810: The tin can was invented. Napoleon Bonaparte offered a reward in 1795 to anyone who could come up with a way to preserve food for military use. In 1810, French chef Nicolas Appert won the 12,000-franc prize by inventing canning – the process of sealing food or drink in a jar or bottle with the use of boiling water. This discovery cleared the way for the invention of the tin can only a year later. In 1810, British merchant Peter Durand got a patent for using tin plated steel to can food. Tin resists corrosion, making it an ideal covering for relatively cheap steel.
- 1818: The tin can arrived on American shores in 1818, and Thomas Kensett & Co, a manufacturing company, patented the tin can in America in 1825. The Civil War prompted the increased popularity of the tin can, as generals once again searched for a way to feed their soldiers.
- 1945: Following World War II and the start of the U.S. Government stockpile for wartime purposes, tin became a major factor in the stockpile and generally since then has been the largest non-fuel mineral in the stockpile based on value.
- In May 2018, the U.S. Department of the Interior, in coordination with other executive branch agencies, published a list of 35 critical minerals (83 FR 23295), including tin.
- About 35 countries mine tin throughout the world. Nearly every continent has an important tin mining country.
- Tin is a relatively scarce element with an abundance in the earth’s crust of about 2 parts per million (ppm), compared with 94 ppm for zinc, 63 ppm for copper, and 12 ppm for lead. It is the 49th most common element in the Earth’s crust.
- Most of the world’s tin is produced from placer deposits; at least one-half comes from Southeast Asia. According to Los Alamos National Laboratory, the metal is mainly “produced in Malaya, Bolivia, Indonesia, Zaire, Thailand and Nigeria.”
- The United States is the world’s largest user of primary tin. Virtually all primary tin to meet U.S. requirements is imported from Southeast Asia and South America – tin has not been mined or smelted in the U.S. since around 1990. Twenty-five firms accounted for about 90% of the primary tin consumed in the United States in 2018.
- Tin is used in coatings for steel containers, in solders for joining pipes or electrical circuits, in bearing alloys, in glass-making, and in a wide range of tin chemical applications. Tin plus the element niobium makes a superconductive metal used for wire. In 2018, the major uses for tin in the United States were tinplate, 21%; chemicals, 17%; solder, 14%; alloys, 10%; babbitt, bronze and brass, and tinning, 11%; and other, 27%.
- Tin is a metal often found in nature in its oxidized form, as the mineral called cassiterite (SnO2 ). Cassiterite has been the primary source of tin throughout history, and it remains the primary source of tin today.
- The symbol for tin, Sn, comes from the Latin word stannum, which was known to be an alloy of lead and silver.
- The Meissner Effect that is commonly observed in superconductors was first discovered in tin crystals.
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