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Electroplating Workers


Alessandro Volta's discovery in 1800 of how to make a dry cell battery marked the beginning of modern electroplating. Early experimental uses of the process involved a simple battery as a source of direct current electricity. Electroplating did not become possible on a commercial basis until around 1840. Initially it was used in applying a coating of gold and silver to cheap base metals such as copper and brass. Plated objects found an immediate market with the rising middle classes, who wanted to be seen as possessing expensive luxury goods such as gold and silver tableware. In 1925, chromium plating was introduced. Chromium produced a long-lasting, good-looking bright finish that was soon widely used, especially on the trim of automobiles and appliances.

Many other uses for electroplating have been developed, including numerous industrial applications. Not only can plating make surfaces more attractive, it can also protect them. The plating process also helps to build up worn areas and changes the characteristics of objects' surfaces so that the objects can be used in ways that would otherwise be impossible. As examples, silver is sometimes used to plate electrical contacts and engine bearings, zinc is applied to steel to prevent corrosion, nickel is used as a decorative plating, copper plating can prevent steel from hardening at the surface and is used in fabricating many steel parts, and gold is commonly used to plate jewelry.

If properly treated, even nonmetals such as plastic, wood, or leather can be electroplated. Today, electroplating treatments are applied to many ordinary articles. These applications can be as diverse as electronic components and bronzed baby shoes, all of which are produced using this process.

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