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History of Tin

Tin has been an important metal throughout the world since around 3500 BC, as evidenced through various archaeological findings. Very early brass utensils containing small amounts of tin were found, together with later objects, produced during the Bronze Age, with higher proportions. Once it was discovered that adding tin to copper strengthened the metal and allowed the creation of significantly more complex utensils, tin became an essential element that influenced man’s development.

In the UK, tin mining was a feature of both the life and landscape of Cornwall and Devon from the Bronze Age right through to 1998, when the last of the tin mines, at South Crofty, was finally closed. One theory suggests that tin was the main reason behind the Roman invasion of Britain, and this theory finds some support in the discovery of tin ingots, of Roman origin, at Bigbury Bay. Production of tin in the UK was particularly prolific in the 3rd century AD, when it was used widely in the production of coinage and pewter.

The mining of tin was always fraught with dangers for the miners, the most serious accidents occurring in the UK at East Wheal Rose in 1846, when 39 men died in flooding, and at Levant, where 31 miners were killed in 1919.

Uses of tin

tin solderModern-day uses of tin include soft solder, particularly for joining electric circuits; it is widely used for coating steel, copper and aluminium to prevent corrosion, and to coat steel containers for food preservation. The fact that tin is not easily oxidised in air gives it strong anti-corrosive properties. This metal can also be used decoratively: punched tin produces ornaments with an interesting appearance and texture which has been popular with artists and sculptors. Less obvious uses include window production, where tin helps to ensure the flat surface of the glass, and in toothpaste, alongside fluoride, to improve oral health.

Today, tin is still produced in Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Bolivia, the Congo, Nigeria and China. Although deposits remain in other parts of the world, including the West, mining is small-scale or has entirely ceased. It is these newly industrialised Asian countries which have become the main producers, and this, together with cheap labour costs, has helped them to achieve omnipotence in the electronic sector, where tin is such an important component in providing solder for circuit boards.

The importance of tin in the 21st century

Both the long history and diverse uses of tin over the centuries demonstrate its significant influence upon the development of mankind. It is impossible to imagine life in the 21st century without tin to preserve food, protect from chemical spillage, keep our computers and mobile phones operating and prevent our teeth from corroding.

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