History and uses of copper

Copper has been with us practically since the birth of human civilization. Its myriad helpful properties have made it essential over millennia, so much so that today it is still commonly used in the world of forging.

➤ History of manual forging

What is copper?

Copper is a chemical element that is a lustrous, shiny, reddish-brown non-ferrous transition metal. It has an atomic number of 29 on the periodic table and its symbol is Cu.

It was one of the first metals used by early civilizations to manufacture different artifacts, with the oldest objects found made of this material dating back to the Neolithic period. Its great utility is due to various of its many beneficial physical, chemical, mechanical and electrical properties, and to the fact that it is durable, ductile, abundant and easy to find.

Copper throughout history

The use of copper dates all the way back to the birth of civilization, approximately 10,000 years ago. It was then that the use of stone to make tools and utensils tapered off and naturally occurring copper began to be used.

Its use may date back to the Sumerians and Egyptians several thousand years before the Common Era, eventually spreading to the Roman and Greek civilizations. The so-called “Copper Age” is usually dated between 3200 and 2200 B.C., a time when important cultural and technological advances were being made. Its importance was such that it is now considered to be an essential contributor to the development of mankind. This importance grew evern further once the possibility of alloying it with tin was discovered, creating bronze.

Copper became so essential that it came to be used in many and very diverse objects, from tools and weapons, to decoration, utensils, coins and jewelry among many other things. Copper was also widely used in the Americas by the Incas and Aztecs, for example.

In the Middle Ages it was used, above all, for the manufacture of household utensils, weapons, armor, agricultural tools and in the nascent industry of the time.

It also played a key role in the 19th century during the Industrial Revolution, after the invention of the electric generator, a period in which demand for copper increased considerably. The reason lies in its high electrical conductivity, which made copper a key material in the development of electricity and telecommunications.

Already in the 20th century, its extraction became more complicated, since many of the deposits that provided high-purity, high-grade ore had already been fully exploited. This coincided with a time of unprecedentedly high demand, leading to the incipient exploitation of the world’s low-grade copper reserves. This, in turn, led to the improvement of metal extraction and refinement technologies.

The properties of copper

Copper is a metal with many beneficial properties, which is why it has been so important since the dawn of mankind. The following are especially noteworthy:

Great conductor of electricity and heat

This is precisely why it is found in cables and electrical components. It is also a very good thermal conductor, so it is used in heating systems and radiators, televisions, computers and cell phones.

Ductility and malleability

It has great ductility and malleability, making it very easy to weld and work with. Thanks to this, it is abundant in industry, forging and even in architecture.

Corrosion resistance

Although it can lose color superficially over time, copper is nevertheless very resistant to corrosion.


Copper’s antibacterial properties have been well known and used for millennia. In fact, today the Environmental Protection Agency considers this metal as suitable to fight against multiple pathogens in a fast and effective way.

What are the uses of copper?

Copper has multiple uses in different professional areas:

  • In telecommunications: for cables, generators, internet and telephony, fiber optics and wireless systems, among others.
  • In transportation: in engines, automobile parts, ships, airplanes and trains.
  • In construction: for example, in thermal systems, wiring, air conditioning equipment, water and gas piping. It is also increasingly used in the world of architecture for the construction of sustainable buildings.
  • Coins: This is one of the oldest uses of copper, as it has been used to make coins since ancient times.
  • Industry: in the construction of most industrial machinery due to the resistant and thermally conductive properties of this metal.
  • Agriculture: Many fungicides and disinfectants are based on copper salts, such as oxychlorides.

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