In 1885 the brothers Cowles patented a process for the electrothermal reduction of oxidized ores by exposure to an intense current of electricity when admixed with carbon in a retort.
Cowles to remove the industry from the hands of chemists, till the time when P. T.
Nevertheless, it was found impracticable to smelt alumina electrically except in presence of copper, so that the Cowles furnace yielded, not the pure metal, but an alloy.
So long as the metal was principally regarded as a necessary ingredient of aluminium-bronze, the Cowles process was popular, but when the advantages of aluminium itself became more apparent, there arose a fresh demand for some chief method of obtaining it unalloyed.
Cowles in 1885, which was worked both at Lockport, New York, U.S.A., and at Milton, Staffordshire.
That this process did not depend upon electrolysis, but was simply an instance of electrical smelting or the decomposition of an oxide by means of carbon at the temperature of the electric arc, is shown by the fact that the Cowles furnace would work with an alternating current.
In 1895 the British Aluminium Company was founded to mine bauxite and manufacture alumina in Ireland, to prepare the necessary electrodes at Greenock, to reduce the aluminium by the aid of water-power at the Falls of Foyers, and to refine and work up the metal into marketable shapes at the old Milton factory of the Cowles Syndicate, remodelled to suit modern requirements.
P. Cowles and his wife conducted a famous school for girls in the building for many years.
Readman, experimenting with a Cowles furnace in Staffordshire in 1888, patented his process, and in the same year Parker and Robinson, working independently, patented a similar one.
For other methods of obtaining vanadium and its compounds, see Cowper Cowles, Engin.