Brass is one of the most commonly used alloys today. You’ll find it just about everywhere, from the components in your car, to the fascias in your home. However, as with all things, the things we take for granted today used to be rarities in olden times. The same is definitely true of brass.
As you probably learned in school, prehistory is often divided into epochs named after the predominant material of the age. First there was the Copper Age from 3500 – 2300 BC, followed by the Bronze Age, which began before 3000 BC, and lastly the Iron Age around 1200 BC.
You might be wondering why a Brass Age never came to pass, especially considering that bronze is an alloy of copper just like brass is. As it happens, zinc–the additive mixed with copper to make brass–is not a particularly easy material to obtain. Before the 18th century, acquiring zinc metal was not possible because it boils at a temperature below what is needed to reduce zinc oxide into metal form.
For the longest time, our ancestors could only make brass by melting calamine, a zinc-rich mineral, with copper and heating them together in a crucible. The heat causes the zinc to vaporize and mix with the copper, thereby creating brass, though the process is rather cumbersome.
In the 18th century though, William Champion patented a method of deriving zinc through distilling charcoal and calamine. This process greatly increased the capacity to produce zinc, though by this time, another era was already dawning, the Industrial Revolution.
Fortunately, fabricators and artisans today no longer have to worry about where and how to get brass for their projects. Indeed, there are many trusted brass suppliers that now allow online ordering of brass sheets, rods, and angles–a world of difference compared to how challenging it was to procure this alloy in days past.