When compared to the ancient histories of metals such as gold, copper and lead, beryllium is a relative newcomer. Though beryllium was discovered in the late 18th century, its unique properties and commercial value were not recognized until the 1920s.
- French chemist Louis-Nicholas Vauquelin discovered beryllium when he identified beryllium oxide in beryl. He named it glucinium, because it tasted sweet like glucose (sugar).
- Elemental (metallic) beryllium was isolated in 1828 by two chemists, working independently: Antoine Bussy (France) and Friedrich Wöhler (Germany).
- Copper beryllium alloys were first patented and used as the conductive spring components of telephone switchboard relays produced in Germany.
- Pure beryllium is first commercialized for use in medical x-ray windows, while beryllia ceramics found application insulating circuitry in radio tubes.
- Beryllium’s qualities supported national defense in World War II: in marine diesel engines (corrosion resistance); in parachute buckles (strong and lightweight); and in high precision aircraft gyroscopic navigation and targeting instruments (lightweight, stiff, non-magnetic, and dimensional stability over a wide temperature range).
- U.S. government scientists discovered that pure beryllium moderates neutrons, making it ideal for control of nuclear reactions and the function of nuclear weapons.
- Demand for beryllium and beryllium-containing materials grew rapidly in postwar markets for telecommunications, appliances, automotive components and plastic mold tooling.
- The build up of strategic deterrent weapons systems during the Cold War increased U.S. government demand for pure beryllium. With the advent of space flight in the same era, beryllium answered the call for a light material with dimensional stability over extreme temperature ranges.
- Beryllium came into its own as an essential structural material for space exploration and high-technology defense applications.
- A beryllium heat shield protected NASA’s Mercury capsule and its astronaut on the first manned journey to space.
- A unit of Materion Corporation, the industry leader, opened a bertrandite ore mine in Utah, ensuring a secure U.S. source of beryllium.
- Beryllium materials were used extensively in the U.S. space effort, as well as in military aircraft navigation, targeting and missile defense systems.
- Copper beryllium became more prevalent in the automotive electronics and mainframe computer industries.
- Personal computers and mobile telephones employed beryllium’s unique electrical and thermal properties to achieve new advances in reliability, affordability, performance and miniaturization.
- First undersea fiberoptic telecommunication cable enters intercontinental service with copper beryllium alloy pressure housings.
- Beryllium applications continued to shift from aerospace and defense to the automotive electronics, telecommunications, computers and energy exploration.
- New beryllium materials, including aluminum beryllium metal matrix composites, set new standards for performance.
- Nickel beryllium alloys enable the first inertial airbag crash sensor systems to be deployed in automobiles, paving the way for this life-saving technology to be standard equipment in vehicles worldwide.
- Optical-grade beryllium was selected as the primary mirror material for NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, scheduled to replace the Hubble Telescope in 2018.
- The U.S. Department of Defense cited high-purity beryllium as the nation’s only “critical” strategic material.
- Beryllium materials enabled clean energy technologies from advanced solar electric cells to nuclear fusion in experimental reactors.
- The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) proposes a new workplace standard for beryllium aimed at better protecting beryllium workers. The standard was based on a model proposed to OSHA by Materion Brush Inc., and the United Steelworkers union.