Copper and Kids

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Overview: Copper helped bring mankind out of the Stone Age

With colors that change from a gleaming, warm salmon red to a soft, nutty brown and finally to a pale blue-green as it ages, the metal we call copper has been with us for a very long time. Archaeologists believe it may be the first metal ever used by man. More than 10,000 years ago, natural deposits of "native copper" were discovered on the surface of the Earth. The people of that time learned that this newfound material could be fashioned into knives, axes and other tools much easier than the tools they were making out of stone. For nearly five thousand years afterward, copper was the only metal known to primitive man!

By 5000 B.C., the dawn of

metallurgy had arrived, and along with it the technique of smelting. Over the next two thousand years, other metals such as gold, silver, lead and tin came into use. The metalsmiths of the day also learned they could mix different metals to create alloys, which gave them all-new metals that were stronger or lighter or easier to work with. One of the earliest and most useful of these alloys, made from copper and tin, was called bronze. This new material was so important that historians now refer to that time period as the Bronze Age. Later, copper was alloyed with zinc to create brass, which was made as early as 500 B.C.

Today, pure copper and more than 400 copper alloys are in use, making it one of the most used metals in the world, surpassed only by iron and aluminum. Copper is so widely used because it has so many special qualities.

Copper has high conductivity, which means that it is very good for transmitting electric current. That's why copper is the material we use when making electrical wires.

Copper is also malleable. Materials that are malleable can be hammered or stretched or rolled into various shapes with relative ease, while still maintaining their strength. Some metals, like copper, are also ductile, which means they are flexible.

Copper has thousands of other uses, too. Throughout history, most coins have been made from copper, as well as jewelry, ornaments, works of art and pots and pans. When machinery came into development during the Industrial Revolution, brass was a principal metal alloy used to make everything from screws to clock gears to steam engines. Copper also found widespread use in architecture and construction for rooftops, drainpipes and decorative accents on houses and buildings of all sizes.

It is only within the past 125 years or so that indoor plumbing has entered our homes and our lives, but for the last 75 years, most of the water we drink has traveled through a copper pipe as well. Copper pipes are so well-suited for plumbing that more than one billion feet of it is installed every year in the United States. In fact, since records were first kept in 1963, more than 5.3 million miles of copper plumbing have been installed.