At the beginning of the 18th century Sir Humphrey Davy anticipated the existence of the metal aluminium. The metal was positively identified later that century. However, its commercial production did not begin until the 1890s, after two inventors – Charles Martin Hall (whose father served as a Congregational minister for ten years in the parish of St. Mary) in the USA and Paul Heroult in France – simultaneously invented in 1886 the process of extracting the metal from its oxide.
It was not until World War II, however, when demand for the metal increased, that attention was paid to bauxite deposits outside Europe, the United States of America, the South African colonies of the Dutch, and British Guiana. In Jamaica, geologists had noticed the “red ferruginous earth” as far back as 1869, but did not understand its significance.
Between 1938 and 1942, Sir Alfred Da’Costa, a Jamaican businessman, was having soil fertility tests done on his farm at Lydford, St. Ann, when he discovered that the land was highly aluminous.
Through Da’Costa’s efforts, the existence of the aluminous soils was brought to the attention of (a) the authorities in the United Kingdom, from whom it was passed on to the Canadians through their sole company, Alcan; and (b) the Dutch firm, Billiton, through his connection as Dutch Honorary Consul in Jamaica. In any event, the Dutch firm did not have a long stay here and so, for a while, Alcan was the sole explorer of the reserves in the island.
Two other North American companies – Reynolds and Kaiser – were later to join in. In 1952, Reynolds began exporting bauxite from Ocho Rios, and a year later Kaiser launched its export activities from Post Kaiser on the south coast. Alcan built an alumina plant near its mines at Kirkvine, Manchester, and in early 1952 began shipping the product.