Skip to main content

Nickel: The Devil and the details.



The word nickel derives from the German word Kupfernickel, which translates roughly as “Devil’s copper”.  It got that name because once in the Middle Ages, German miners found a large strike of what they thought was pure copper, but turned out to be more of a copper-nickel mixture.  This happens more frequently than you might think.  (Nickel deposits often seem more like silver, at first.)  Nickel wasn’t useless, and there was plenty of copper in the mixture, which made refining the two metals very difficult.  The extra work to make their strike economically viable reduced the value of their find, so the miners understandably cursed it, attributing the find to Nick, a mischievous sprite from German mining mythology: Nickel.  It’s from this association that in English, the Devil came to be sometimes known as Old Nick.

That old devil, Nickel (artist’s rendering—no photo available).

Refining copper and nickel is a lot easier with modern technology.  Nickel is used in a lot of alloys, and sometimes in its pure form.  In the United States, the silver half dime coin was discontinued in 1883 and replaced with a physically larger coin that was 75% copper and only 25% nickel, also worth five cents.  This new coin, despite being mostly copper, was dubbed the nickel.  The design of the coin has changed a few times since 1883, but its metallic composition has remained the same.  The Canadian five-cent piece came along later, and it was also called a nickel.  This made more sense, since the Canadian piece actually was 99% nickel.  It remained that way until 1981, when Canadian nickels adopted the same alloy of the US coin.  Canadian nickels today are mostly nickel-plated steel, but no one feels the need to change the name.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

The Star-Spangled Banner: The Original Lyrics

If you’re an American (and quite possibly even if you’re not), you’ve certainly heard the tune called “To Anacreon in Heaven” numerous times.  It’s a stirring melody, and can often sound very proud, and if someone asked you to hum a few bars, you probably could do a creditable job of it, even if you have no musical ability at all.  The tune is that familiar.  Of course, it has another name that you probably know better: “The Star-Spangled Banner”.

But the song’s first name was “To Anacreon in Heaven”.  The song asserts that Anacreon is in heaven, right from the first line.  Whether Anacreon actually is in heaven, I’ll take no position on, but he most certainly is dead.  Anacreon was a Greek poet who lived from circa 582 BCE to 485 BCE, which is a remarkably advanced age for the times.  Anacreon was celebrated for his songs about drinking and love and having a good time.  Maybe not the weightiest of literature, but even the most serious poets and thinkers need to take a break now and …

Alcock and Brown: The First Transatlantic Flight

Since his celebrated landing in Paris 90 years ago, we often hear of Charles Lindbergh’s flight across the Atlantic.  He flew solo, taking off from Roosevelt Field in Brooklyn and landing in Le Bourget field in Paris after a flight of 33½ hours in his cramped, lightweight plane, The Spirit of Saint Louis.  Lindbergh was one of several individuals or teams who were competing for the Orteig Prize: a $25,000 purse offered to the first to fly from New York to Paris, offered by wealthy New York hotelier Raymond Orteig.  Lindbergh took off and landed perfectly, and managed to navigate the whole way without getting lost.  This was quite a feat in the days before computers to aid navigation, or the elaborate system of air traffic control that would come into being, once commercial airlines started to develop.  What Lindbergh did immediately made him an international hero and a household name for years after, with streets and buildings and yes, airports, named after him.  To this day, Charles …