I just happened on to this site that goes into all sorts of interesting facts and history of aluminum. It is a directory of available suppliers but at the bottom of the page goes into all sorts of information related to history, uses, and actually how it is produced.
Here is a snippet that caught my attention:
History of Aluminum
Ancient Roman texts speak of a material that looked like silver but was much lighter. We know now that they had accidentally come upon an aluminum alloy. At this time, aluminum oxide clays were also used in hide-tanning, first aid, and fireproofing.
Curiosity grew over the following years which led to Hans Christian Oersted’s successful production of the first aluminum alloy. Aluminum became very popular but still rare because of the high production cost. The versatility and potential of this new metal led to a race to find a better way to make useful aluminum.
In 1887, Karl Josef Bayer developed a process that allows aluminum to be extracted from a common, natural, aluminum ore. This process is the same process from which almost all of the world’s aluminum is produced.
Bayer’s method lit the spark that changed the industry. Aluminum was cheap enough to be cost effective and was subsequently used for aircrafts, automotive parts, electrical wiring, and any application that requires high-strength, low-weight, metal.