Titanium Time Travels

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Ready to escape to nature? Outdoor activities are a favorite outlet for many of us to decompress from the day-to-day routine. A popular outdoor activity is to hit the trial on a great hike and overnight camping adventure. Of course, if we are camping, we are usually cooking. There’s nothing like some fresh air with a healthy dose of nature to build up a good appetite! In this article, I will highlight a brief history of titanium, an important element now found in some light-weight camping cookware.

First, let’s start by understanding titanium is a chemical element you may have learned about in chemistry class, with the symbol Ti and atomic number 22. It is the ninth-most abundant element in the Earth’s crust and the seventh-most abundant metal. It is a lustrous transition metal with a lovely silver color, low density and highest strength-to-weight ratio of any metallic element. In its unalloyed condition, titanium is as strong as some steels, but less dense. Impressive! It is highly resistant to corrosion in sea water, aqua Regia and chlorine. So, what does this have to do with camping cookware? We love titanium because it is light weight in our packs, exceptionally strong and a good investment, as it holds up well over time.

Speaking of time, did you know titanium was first discovered in Cornwall, Great Britain by William Gregor, the vicar of the Creed parish and amateur geologist in 1791? Gregor recognized the presence of a new element in ilmenite when he found black sand by a stream in the nearby parish of Manaccan. It seemed the sand was attracted by a magnet, so Gregor analyzed the sand and determined the presence of two metal oxides: iron oxide and a whitish metallic oxide he could not identify. Realizing the unidentified oxide contained a metal that did not match any known elements, Gregor reported his findings to the Royal Geological Society of Cornwall and in the German science journal Crell’s Annalen. Interestingly a few years later the oxide was independently discovered in 1795 by Prussian chemist Martin Heinrich Klaproth, in what we now call Slovakia. Klaproth named the new element for the strong Titans in Greek mythology.

Fast forward to the 1950’s and 1960’s, the Soviet Union pioneered the use of titanium in military and submarine applications as part of their Cold War programs. Beginning in the early 1950’s, titanium was frequently used in military aviation, particularly in high-performance jets, such as the F-100 Super Sabre, Lockheed A-12 and SR-71.

Recognizing the strategic value of titanium, the U.S. Department of Defense supported early commercialization throughout the Cold War. So much so, that a large stockpile of titanium was maintained by the Defense National Stockpile Center, until it was finally depleted in the 2000’s. As of 2015, titanium sponge metal was produced in six countries: China, Japan, Russia, Kazakhstan, United States, Ukraine and India (in order of output). So, there you have it – who knew titanium is found and valued worldwide? Today we know that it is a wonderful cooking companion on our many travels across the great outdoors.

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