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topic 13035

The history of electroplating



A discussion started in 2002 & continuing through 2017

(2002)

Q. I am writing a paper for a graduate school class describing an electroplating system, and the interfaces within this system. Is there a reference source available that could discuss when electroplating got started? (I already have background material on Volta, Galvani and Faraday in relationship to electrochemistry/electrodeposition -- just need history on the practical applications).

Thanks in advance!

Linda Thomas
- Newcastle, Washington


(2002)

A. Hi Linda. The closest thing I can think of to one-stop shopping for you is a VHS video called "History of Electroplating with Al Weisberg" available from www.nasf.org.

But there are dozens of journal articles from numerous countries and in several different languages including "History of Electroplating & Electroforming in Russia", "Nickel Plating - Brief History", "Early History of Gold Electroplating", "The Origins & History of Gold Plating", "History & Introduction to Brush Plating", "History of Chromium Plating", "A History of Zinc Plating", etc.

You probably need to do a published lit search (not a website search) incorporating the terms 'history' and 'electroplating'.

Ted Mooney, finishing.com Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
finishing.com
Pine Beach, New Jersey


(2002)

A. For reasons too complex to explain here I cannot get to my reference collection. I do remember that in 1984 the AESF ran a history of the association and of plating in their 75th anniversary edition of Plating & Surface Finishing. A student of industry history, if you can locate him, would be Al Weisberg, retired from Technic, Inc. but probably still reachable through them. He set up a little museum of plating history, collects antique plating photos and apparatus and has, in the past made presentations to groups regarding the history of plating.

The web address for AESF (American Electroplaters and Surface Finishers Society) is nasf.org

Hope this helps.

Gene Packman
process supplier - Great Neck, New York


(2002)

A. In the name of god I'm a student of chemistry. I didn't study about history of electroplating, but last year I read a Persian magazine that wrote that Persian in about 2000 years ago done electroplating on some coins. I am sorry that I forget magazine's name.

S.Ali Ojaghi
Isfahan University of Technology - Iran


(2002)

thumbs up sign Thank you, Mr. Ojaghi. I think that is very possibly true, but I haven't myself seen evidence that it is definitely true.

Ted Mooney, finishing.com
Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
finishing.com
Pine Beach, New Jersey



Terracotta Warriors

(2005)

! I have just returned from China where I visited the famous 'Terracotta Warriors'. In the Museum there is a display of weaponry from about 2200 years ago - it is Chrome-Plated! I am currently trying to find out how!

I am sure I heard of crude batteries found, possibly in the Middle-East, dating from many thousands of years ago. Based on a pottery jar with dissimilar metals for electrodes some acid must have been involved as an electrolyte. After all a simple battery can be formed with a lemon and copper and lead electrodes but it won't last long! It is my thought that the oldest civilization in the world must have known about electroplating!

There is some 1/2-size, gold-plated, bronze horses and carriages there. Perhaps these were also electroplated?

John Moss
Private - Coventry, UK


(2005)

thumbs up sign I think it's certainly possible that the early Chinese did some electroplating, John. But things as simple as the wheel, the domestication of farm animals, and phonetic writing didn't exist in the Americas until the Europeans arrived, despite tens of thousands of years of civilization -- so I don't see any reason to say that the Chinese or any other group "must have known about electroplating".

Just because something is shiny doesn't mean it's actually chromium plated--maybe they are silver, nickel, or zinc? There is another technology not involving electricity that was used in early cultures, i.e., surface enrichment with acids. There, a typical gold and copper alloy was cast, then acid was used to dissolve the copper and thereby gold-enrich the surface. I heard that the Aztecs did a lot of that.

Ted Mooney, finishing.com
Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
finishing.com
Pine Beach, New Jersey


(2005)

Q. I would like to hear from anyone who knows whether the chromium plating of metallic objects was performed prior to the American / German introduction of the techniques during the 20th century.

I visited the famous 'Terracotta Warriors' museum near Xi'an in China at the end of 2004.
There is a display of weaponry in the Museum from about 2200 years ago
Amazingly, it is Chrome-Plated! I am currently trying to find out how they managed this feat!

I heard of The Baghdad Battery circa 250 BC
On the website: www.mpoweruk.com/history.htm#250bc there is an explanation.
There is also a disclaimer suggesting that this artifact was in fact a scroll-case and as the objects were plundered after the gulf war, we may never be able to find out just what they were or were used for!

It is my thought that the Chinese may have known something about electroplating?
There are some 1/2-size, gold-plated, bronze horses and carriages there.
Perhaps these were also electroplated?
The Chinese also invented the magnetic compass at about this time.

John Moss [returning]
Kingdom Sounds - Coventry, West Midlands, UK


(2005)

A. I caught the History Channel show about the Baghdad Battery, and here's the thing: it's flight-of-fancy speculation, not fact. While we have no good reason to dismiss the possibility that the Persians could have invented a battery; all we really have are a couple of pottery shards, and a piece of iron and a piece of copper discovered in the same general area.

Some archeologists then advanced a theory that the iron and copper could have been put into a pottery jar, and this filled with vinegar to make a battery. They then developed artist's conceptions of what they conjectured ... but we must not fool ourselves into thinking that these artists' conception of what might have been possible is what was actually found ... it was only a little blob of copper somewhere in the area of a blob of iron somewhere in the area of pottery shards :-)
Other archeologists feel it was just a few ritual items and that there is no evidence whatsoever of the use of batteries, and they note that pottery shards are hardly an astounding thing to find in a dig :-)

Anything is possible, John, but just repeating assertions doesn't make them more true. You said the first time that they were chrome plated, and I replied that everything that is shiny isn't chrome plated. Is there any metallurgical analysis or metallography demonstrating either that they contain chromium or that they are electroplated?

Ted Mooney, finishing.com
Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
finishing.com
Pine Beach, New Jersey



(2006)

Q. I heard about the Baghdad Battery and how it was used to electroplate coins. How would I, a 12th grade student, do that?

Rick S
student - Philadelphia, Pennsylvania


(2006)

A. The Baghdad Battery is speculation, Rick, not a known fact. Nor have any electroplated coins been found from that era as far as I have heard; they are speculation as well. As a real research project, you might go to a large library and investigate everything you can about this and write a paper on whether you think the battery was real or not. But please see our FAQ, "Electroplating: How it Works", for instruction on electroplating of coins for a school science project. Good luck!

Ted Mooney, finishing.com
Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
finishing.com
Pine Beach, New Jersey



June 19, 2009

Q. I'm in 11th grade. We are trying to figure out what would be the most likely acid used in the very first battery. We know that ancient Mesopotamians had vinegar and lemon juice. We want to test lemon juice and vinegar with the two metal electrodes found in the ancient clay batteries. Do you think we should use dilutions on the two acids to see if it will improve the voltage output? or should we just repeat the test 3X's with each acid and H2O,as a control and use the averages? Our goal would be to see which acid was the one most likely used in the ancient battery by seeing which one works better.

Harold F [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
student - Port St Lucie, Florida


June 19, 2009

A. Hi, Harold. As previously noted repeatedly, the "Baghdad Battery" is not an actual device, it is a theory based on archeologists having found a chunk of copper and a chunk of iron somewhere near some pottery shards (there is nothing more common in archeology than pottery shards). I'd like to believe it existed, and have no strong reason to say it couldn't have, but the evidence so far is sketchier than sketchy, and my personal guess is that it didn't exist.

One reason for my guess that it didn't exist is that it is difficult to conduct electroplating experiments like this without generating very obvious quantities of hydrogen gas at the cathode. If the ancients did this, and saw this generation of gas, and had any curiosity at all about what they were doing, it sounds highly unlikely that they would have failed to discover the "lighter than air" hydrogen gas that they were producing. Mankind's hunger to fly is primal, and we would have had ancient hydrogen balloons, rather than plated coins :-)

So don't weaken your science project by claiming that the battery existed -- use your results as evidence that it could have.

Don't dilute the juice or vinegar because they are already very weak acids. You can consult the galvanic series to determine the maximum theoretical voltage that the combination of iron and copper will generate, and see how close you can come. Good luck!

Regards,

Ted Mooney, finishing.com
Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
finishing.com
Pine Beach, New Jersey



Bright zinc history question - to settle some disagreements

September 17, 2017

Q. Me - I am the admin of a popular car hobby forum. I also restore automotive components such as alternators, starters, blower motors (AC and heat), windshield wiper motors, etc.
I had trouble finding people to finish small parts, small batches of parts, how I wanted them done so I decided to take that on myself. I use professional formulations for zinc (ammonium and potassium chloride) and brighteners, etc, from EPI (Electrochemical Products Inc.) [a finishing.com supporting advertiser]. I've been at this for 3 or 4 years so have done a lot of research, experimentation and more. I've also restored my share of parts - and have studied original finishes as much as I could, using well-preserved parts or NOS (new old stock) parts never installed or used, such as NOS wiper motors, replacement pulleys and fans for alternators and so on.
I have been disagreeing with those who "restore" things like wiper motors to a nice bright shiny zinc with a beautiful yellow chromate finish. In my opinion, it's TOO much shine. My research has shown the zinc wasn't so bright and shiny, it had more of a satin finish in part because the steel parts were stamped or pressed or whatever process was needed, then cleaned and plated while today these people "restoring" must remove rust and imperfections and end up burnishing the steel at the least, polishing it at the most, then plating with modern bright zinc baths and methods.
I believe there was less shine, it was less bright for two reasons -
The steel wasn't polished and wasn't buffed or cleaned, but was plain stamped and formed steel
and
modern bright zinc baths didn't exist in the 1960s and early 1970s

I back the latter up with comments from a chemist from EPI, as well as the fact that one of my first jobs was at a hardware store- and yes, we did inventory manually and I hand-counted nuts, bolts and washers and believe me, they didn't have the SHINE a new bolt from Lowe's or Menards has!

So - am I right or wrong, and if I'm right, are my reasons okay, and if I'm wrong - please explain. I'm after facts and truth as folks are trusting me to refinish their parts to the way they WERE or should be, from the 1960s and not how things are done today. They want a correct finish for parts up through the very early 1970s

Thanks for bearing with me and reading this far!

Bill Dickerson
auto restorer doing my own plating - Runnells ,Iowa USA


September 2017

A. Hi Bill. You are correct. Until the mid 1970s virtually all zinc plating was done from cyanide based plating baths, and it was not shiny like today's Bright Acid Zinc is. Acid zinc took the world by storm in the second half of the 1970s; I don't have actual statistics, but based on visits to many zinc plating shops, I believe that the amount of acid zinc plated in the USA probably began to exceed the amount of cyanide zinc plated by the early or mid 1980s.

Regards,

pic of Ted Mooney
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
finishing.com
Pine Beach, New Jersey
Striving to live "Aloha"


December 11, 2017

Q. Ted,

I am on the technical committee for a British Sports car Concours group and somewhat versed in old British Fasteners from the 1950s and '60s. Especially the transition from the Whitworth Standard to Unified fasteners. Other than many of the Whitworth fasteners that were black Phosphate finished ("Phos & Oil"), the early unified fasteners were Zinc plated by documented specifications.

I have advocated for years that the zinc plating from the period was a dull finish, which looked more like modern white Cadmium plating than the bright zinc of modern plated fasteners. I have recommended that folks use Cadmium versus zinc not only to replicate the period look, but that fact that Cadmium plating is up to three times more rust resistant than Zinc plating.

My current issue is with an expert who claims that some of that zinc fasteners from cars made between 1953 to '56 were yellow Zinc plated (Zinc Chromate?). I disagree with this evaluation, and think that they were regular silver zinc and the residual "gold" color on the clips in question was some type of finish over the zinc. My question is... was yellow zinc plating even used in the British or American car industry in the mid 1950s?

Curtis Arndt
- Carlsbad, California USA


December 2017

A. Hi Curtis. I am not an historian but I was working for Harshaw Chemical Co. (now Atotech) from 1974 to 1979, which was the period when they introduced and popularized bright acid zinc plating. Before that we had only cyanide zinc plating, and it was indeed rather matte looking.

I think I'm seeing a bit of confusion in your posting about what "yellow zinc" is. All zinc plating is silvery in tone, never gold-ish in tone. When people talk about "yellow zinc", it's just shorthand for zinc plating followed by yellow chromate conversion coating rather than clear or blue or olive or black chromate conversion coating. I have never seen zinc plating which was not chromate conversion coated as a matter of course; and yellow was quite common, as were clear and blue, but I cannot say which color conversion coating was used on British sports cars.

I would, however, urge you to consider spec'ing tin-zinc plating rather than the highly toxic cadmium plating. We should be getting cadmium out of the environment, not putting it on classic cars because it looks authentic even though it isn't :-)

Regards,

pic of Ted Mooney
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
finishing.com
Pine Beach, New Jersey
Striving to live "Aloha"


December 12, 2017

A. Hi All
I am a little surprised by this thread.
I have never seen an old British (or probably Continental) car with any zinc plating except possibly on engine parts like throttle linkage.
The very earliest (pre WW2) cars probably used nickel but from the 50s chrome was the invariable finish for hub caps, bumpers (fenders) door fittings etc. The standard texts of the time ("The Canning Handbook" style= [link is to info about book at Amazon], etc) only show large automated lines full of car parts and always chrome, with a full spec copper/nickel/chrome on quality parts.
Zinc only started to appear probably late 90s,and only as the Zinc/tin alloy although first developed in the 40s. As I recall it was first used as a corrosion resistant finish on brake lines as the finish was not at first acceptable for decorative use.
I have no idea what was used in US but given the universal demand for a shiny finish, I would expect development followed the same course.
Cadmium on any external surface seems extremely unlikely for similar reasons.

geoff smith
Geoff Smith
Hampshire,
       England



December 2017

thumbs up sign Thanks Geoff. I think these guys are talking about fasteners and underhood components rather than decorative stuff. My only British sports car was a 1969 MGB and although I don't remember what it looked like under the hood, I should, because I spent endless hours there trying to keep it running :-)

When I was with Harshaw in the late 70's we did start applying bright acid zinc, followed by a clearcoat, to bicycle rims as a decorative finish. To my knowledge that was the first attempt to use zinc plating decoratively, and it was probably okay as long as you made sure to never parked those bikes next to ones with chrome plated rims :-)

Regards,

pic of Ted Mooney
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
finishing.com
Pine Beach, New Jersey
Striving to live "Aloha"


December 12, 2017

Hi All,

My question had to do specifically with the the zinc plating of fasteners on British cars in the 1950s onward. And more specifically, was a yellow zinc chromate used by the British or anyone for that matter in the 1950s for automotive use? In my defense I did mention zinc chromate in my original posting.

By specification, in England most fasteners were zinc plated for corrosion purposes in the 1950s, especially with the change from the "Whitworth" thread form standard to the "Unified" standard at this time. Before that, most Whitworth fasteners were mostly finished in black phosphate ("Phos & Oil") which provided minimal corrosion protection. Another topic worthy of discussion in another thread.

As a fact, and a matter of documented specification, British fasteners were and currently are zinc plated, e.g., period coding for Hex Bolt would be "HBZ 0610" for Hex Bolt, Zinc plated and the 0610 a code for a 3/8" X 1-1/4". "HBN" is the British code for a Hex Bolt, Nickel plated.

BTW, I have been plating my fasteners at home for years using an imitation cad plating kit (which of course uses no Cadmium nor Cyanide}. The appearance is identical to original fasteners found on my 1955 car.

Original 1/4" bolts for brake pedal compared to 5/16" bolts plated by me using imitation cad from hobby plating company.

13035

Cheers,

Curt

Curtis Arndt [returning]
- Carlsbad, California USA



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