J.G. Legmann described an orange-yellow mineral discovered in Siberia’s Ural Mountains, which he called crocoite because it resembled the colour of egg yoke (krokos in Greek).
French chemist Nicolas-Louis Vauquelin identified a new metallic element in this mineral. He called it “chromium”, after the Greek khrōma, meaning colour, because of its colourful compounds. At this time, the yellow deposit obtained by crushing the mineral was already being used as a paint pigment. After further research, Vauquelin found that trace elements of chrome give rubies their characteristic red colour and emeralds, serpentine and chrome mica their distinctive green.
Chrome’s versatility soon became more evident. While paint remained the main application for many years, in the 19th century potassium dichromate was found to be an excellent mordant in textile dyeing, helping dyes to attach and adhere to the fabric. A few years later, chrome sulphate was introduced in a process for tanning leather. The 1850s saw the discovery of chromium plating – an electrode position that gives metal abrasion resistance, wear resistance, corrosion protection, lubricity, and aesthetic qualities.
Late in the 19th century, chrome began to be used in refractory bricks (an application which saw substantial growth later in the 1930s). However, its use in foundry sands for moulding, did not come until the 20th century. The first patent for the use of chrome in steel was granted in 1865.
Chrome’s application as a timber preservative dates from the early 20th century.
The large-scale use of chrome in metals didn’t materialise until the development of the electric arc furnace in the early 1900s, which made it possible to smelt chromite into ferrochrome. At this stage, chrome was used to produce chrome metal – an alloy composed almost entirely of chrome.
Stainless steel was discovered in the early 1900s and the rest, as they say, is history.
The historical timeline of chromite
Learn more about the discovery of chrome, its many properties and applications.
The historical timeline of chromite
Legmann discovers crocoite.
The western world identifies chromium (Vauquelin).
First known major chromite discovery in the USA (exploited immediately).
Potassium dichromate first used as a tanning mordant and Koechlin introduces chrome yellow in calice printing.
Berthier and Faraday discover chromium’s alloying properties and produce the first chrome-alloyed steel.
Norway begins to mine chromite.
Small chromite deposits discovered in Canada.
Important chromite discovery in Turkey.
Chromite discovered in lndia (but is only exploited 50 years later).
Chrome leather tanning invented.
Turkey becomes world leader in chromite production.
Important discovery of chromite in South Africa and Zimbabwe (only exploited 50 years later). First patent for the use of chrome in steel.
First recorded use of chrome in refractory applications.
Chromite discovered in Australia.
First commercial discovery of chromite on Russian territory.
First ferrochrome produced by Moissan, in an electric furnace. First use in armour plating (Germany).
America produces its first commercial high-carbon ferrochrome.
First production of pure chromium by aluminothermy.
Chrome ore found in Brazil and Cuba. First industrial production of ferrochrome in USA by UCAR.
Chromated copper arsenate first used as a preservative in timber treatment.
Discovery of chromite deposits in Albania and the Philippines.
First production of HC and M/L C ferrochrome in South Africa.
First ferrochrome site in the USSR (Kazakhstan).
First use of chromite as a specialist foundry sand (South Africa).
First furnace for charge chrome production in South Africa.
USSR becomes the most important ferrochrome producer.
First DC plasma arc furnace for ferrochrome in South Africa.
South Africa becomes the world's most important producer of charge chrome.
Increase of UG2 production in South Africa.
Record levels of ferrochrome and stainless steel production.
China becomes the world’s most important producer of ferrochrome.
World production of chromite
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