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The History of Electroplating

From Mary Bellis,
Your Guide to Inventors.
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Luigi Brugnatelli invented electroplating in 1805.

Italian chemist, Luigi Brugnatelli invented electroplating in 1805. Brugnatelli performed electrodeposition of gold using the Voltaic Pile, discovered by his college Allessandro Volta in 1800. Luigi Brugnatelli's work was rebuffed by the dictator Napoleon Bonaparte, which caused Brugnatelli to suppress any further publication of his work.

However, Luigi Brugnatelli did write about electroplating in the Belgian Journal of Physics and Chemistry, "I have lately gilt in a complete manner two large silver medals, by bringing them into communication by means of a steel wire, with a negative pole of a voltaic pile, and keeping them one after the other immersed in ammoniuret of gold newly made and well saturated".

John Wright

Forty years later, John Wright of Birmingham, England discovered that potassium cyanide was a suitable electrolyte for gold and silver electroplating. According to the Birmingham Jewellery Quarter, "It was a Birmingham doctor, John Wright, who first showed that items could be electroplated by immersing them in a tank of silver held in solution, through which an electric current was passed."

The Elkingtons

Others inventors were also carrying on similar work. Several patents for electroplating processes were issued in 1840. However, cousins Henry and George Richard Elkington patented the electroplating process first. It should be noted that the Elkington's bought the patent rights to John Wright's process. The Elkington's held a monopoly on electroplating for many years due to their patent for an inexpensive method of electroplating.

In 1857, the next new wonder in economical jewelry arrived called electroplating - when the process was first applied to costume jewelry.

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