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Copper in health
 Copper through history 
Copper and gold are the oldest metals known to man and were found in ancient times in their native form. Their bright colour made them easily visible.

The earliest known copper article is a pendant dating from about 9000 BC in Asia Minor. Copper gradually became more plentiful as ancient man learnt how to produce copper from copper ore. The discovery of alloying copper and tin to make bronze (the first ever alloy) was a major step forward because bronze is harder, tougher and stronger than copper.

Use the timeline below to find out some of its historical uses. Roll over the flags to see the information.

Rollover diagram of timeline
Pictures of artifacts with kind permission of CODELCO
Early uses
The first copper objects were decorative - because copper is attractive and easy to shape. For example, earrings, rings, broaches, bracelets, combs and mirrors have been discovered from the ancient civilisations of China, India, Peru and Rome. They display a high level of craftsmanship and artisitc skill. These sorts of articles are still being made today and sold in markets all over the world.

Later uses
Some early civilisations realised that bronze could be melted easily and cast into shapes. Furthermore, it could be hardened by working the metal. So they began to use it in new applications: axes, knives, chisels and bowls. These were much more effective than their clay or stone counterparts, which were brittle and more fragile.

Valuable copper and bronze articles were traded across the world for cloth, furs and food. This led to an improvement in living standards.

In Britain, the Bronze Age started in about 2000 BC. Copper and tin were mined in Cornwall and Wales. At one time, Britain was the biggest producer of tin in the world, supplying those countries which had copper but no tin to make bronze.

More modern times
Much later, copper and zinc were alloyed to make brass. This found many uses as Britain developed into a major industrial country. In the 20th century, it is copper's electrical properties that have dominated its uses (see page 4). 60% of copper is used in electrical and electronic goods.

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Question 2    
a) Copper and brass have been used in musical instruments for thousands of years. Which of these instruments uses copper or brass to produce a sound?
Trumpet Piano Harmonica Gong Saxophone
b) Some of the properties of copper are shown below. Which ones have made it suitable for use in musical instruments?
Strong Ductile Electrical conductor Tough Low reactivity
c) The availability of copper enabled mains electricity to be distributed to homes. When do you think this happened?

3500 BC
Early Bronze Age. Copper smelting increased the supply of metal in Asia Minor.

Bronze axe heads

2500 BC
Bronze allowed the production of weapons, tools and cast objects.

1500 BC
Bells and gongs - the first bronze musical instruments.

Ancient coins

700 BC
Coins: the use of bronze as a means of payment became widespread in Asia.

100 BC
Brass and bronze began to be used for decorative objects in the homes of Romans.

Ancient jewellery

Gunpowder was being used for fireworks in China. The bronze cannon was invented in Europe.

Engraved brass die

Brass astronomy instruments developed in Europe.
Engraved copper plates and brass dies used for printing presses in Germany.

Brass used for the cases and gears of pocket watches and later for pendulum clocks and gears.

Old clock

Brass telescope made in Holland.

Steam pumps made it possible to drain the water from mines and increased copper production.

Bronze trumpets

Piano made with bronze strings. Still making bronze gongs, bells, flutes and trumpets.

Lightning rod made from copper wire in Americas.

Brass machinery

In Britain, steam engines, with brass fittings, revolutionised the industrial world and increased demand for copper.
A year later, a copper lightning conductor was installed on St Paul's cathedral.

Brass harmonica and, in 1841, brass saxophone continue the tradition of musical copper.

Bronze propellor

Ship propellors made from bronze.
Electric telegraph transmissions along copper cables - USA. In 1851, the first underwater telegraph cable was laid from Dover to Calais.

Electric dynamo made with copper windings. 12 years later electricity was generated and transmitted along copper wires. In 1879, an electric train motor was developed in Germany.

Telephone exchange

Voice transmission along copper telephone cables.

First electric light bulb fed by copper wires. A later, alternating current was developed as an efficient means of transmission.

Early light bulb

Motor car components and fittings made of brass in Germany.
A washing machine with an electric motor was developed in the USA. At this time houses began to have access to mains electricity.

Electric radio with copper and brass wiring and components.

Radio set

Electric drill with small electric motor that used copper windings.

A new process made it possible to extract copper from low grade ores.

Early TV

Television and in 1954 microwave cookers add to the domestic appliances that use copper components.

Solar cells, using copper wiring, convert sunlight to electricity.

Photomicrograph of microchip

Copper circuits on microchips increase processing speeds. In 2000, the third generation copper chips were developed.

Copper timeline
Roll your cursor over the brass bollards to find out the latest copper developments from that time.