Foil made from a thin leaf of tin was commercially available before its aluminium counterpart. In the late 19th century and early 20th century, tin foil was in common use, and some people continue to refer to the new product by the name of the old one. Tin foil is stiffer than aluminium foil. It tends to give a slight tin taste to food wrapped in it, which is a major reason it has largely been replaced by aluminium and other materials for wrapping food.
Tin was first replaced by aluminium starting in 1910, when the first aluminium foil rolling plant, “Dr. Lauber, Neher & Cie., Emmishofen.” was opened in Kreuzlingen, Switzerland. The plant, owned by aluminium manufacturers J.G. Neher & Sons, started in 1886 in Schaffhausen, Switzerland, at the foot of the Rhine Falls—capturing the falls’ energy to produce aluminium. Neher’s sons together with Dr. Lauber invented the endless rolling process and the use of aluminium foil as a protective barrier.
Aluminum itself was first available in ingot quantity in 1888. The earliest production of aluminum foil was in France about 1903, by Gautschi, employing the classical pack rolling method of reducing metal to foil thicknesses.
Gautschi stacked a number of thin sheets of aluminum into a pack and rolled this between heavy iron cylinders heated internally by hot water. This was repeated each time with a progressively smaller gap between the iron cylinders, until the desired foil gauges were obtained.
In the United States, commercial production of aluminum foil was begun in 1913. As various early producers and consumers of metal foils became interested in the attractive material, both demand and production increased rapidly. By the end of World War II, eight plants were rolling foil. Today many more in this country and throughout the world are producing aluminum foil for hundreds of applications in this major industrial and consumer markets.
Broadly grouped, the major U.S. industrial markets are Building and Constriction; Transportation; Consumer Durables; Electrical; Machinery and Equipment; and Containers. Together they encompass such a wide range and large numbers of end uses for aluminum foil that practically every household and every art and profession finds expression in this adaptable material.
Early Foil Applications
The first commercial use of aluminum foil in the U.S. apparently was for identification leg bands for racing pigeons, sometime around 1913-14. Quite understandably, no predictions of future volume sales for foil have been found in marketing histories of the time.
However aluminum foil soon showed great potential for containers and packaging because of its compatibility and protective qualities, economy, and its attractive appearance. An early packaging use for foil was as intimate wraps for chocolate and tea. In 1921 the first aluminum foil laminated paperboard folding carton was produced. Successful letterpress printing on foil was developed about the same time.
By 1929, aluminum accounted for 11% of all metal foil produced. Household foil was marketed in the late 1920’s. In 1931, aluminum foil was packaged in appropriate sizes and thicknesses, in both rolls and sheets, and as an institutional wrap primarily for use by hotel, restaurant, and hospital kitchens.
Aluminum’s share of foil production had rocketed to more than 50% by 1932. Another packaging use received a boost in 1937 when a brewery ordered 100 million aluminum foil bottle labels, the largest such at the time. In. 1938, 56% of all foil produced was aluminum; today, this is in excess of 90%.
The first heat-sealing foil was developed in 1938, and many attractive new packages and labels were seen at marketing shows and in the stores during the next year or so. But aluminum in all forms was soon drafted for war use in all parts of the world.
The effect of World War II on aluminum foil was to establish it as a major packaging material, and as a major product with in the aluminum industry. It’s truly spectacular growth period was launched. Principal uses during the war were for such essential military applications as packaging to prevent damage to contents by moisture, vermin, and heat; electrical capacitors; insulation; and anti-radar chaff, which were dropped from planes on bombing missions, as a radar shield.
Following the war, aluminum was available for commercial use in large quantities, and the packaging industry in particular was familiar with the many protective, plus the visually attractive qualities of foil. Manufacturers of thermal insulation also found its barrier properties and reflectivity to be unexcelled. Aluminum foil applications began to multiply and foil packages and products became standard items in retail stores.
The first formed, all-foil food containers appeared on the market in 1948, with a folded, cook-in design. This grew into the complete line of die-formed and air-formed foil containers now sold in every grocer and supermarket, either as product-containing packages, or as convenience dishes and pans. In 1949, large scale promotion and distribution if institutional foil quickly expanded this market launched 17 years earlier.
Foil/fiber cans for both dry and liquid products were developed and the first large-scale order for foil/fiber motor oil cans was produced. Today the leading products packaged in this type of can include snack products, cosmetics, and ready-to-bake items.