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Gold: Its Uses Throughout History

By Marc Poirier on 06/10/2016

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From ornate decorations to intricate circuitry, gold has seen a wide variety of uses across millennia of importance.

Humans have been making use of gold since practically the dawn of civilization — as far back as 4000 B.C., the metal was used to make decorative objects, according to the National Mining Association. Since then, gold has come a long way, finding uses in modern medicine and mobile technology. From the tombs of Egyptian pharaohs to the space station orbiting the Earth, gold is an integral part of human history.

Humble Beginnings?

Gold has been a critical element of almost every human culture dating back to ancient Egypt, where ornate gold objects more than 5,000 years old have been found, as Geology.com explains. Part of the reason the metal pervaded early civilizations is gold’s geographic diversity and its propensity to occur in its native form, without combining with other elements — that’s why you can find relatively large gold nuggets sitting in a river. Its chemical composition means that gold will not tarnish or corrode, and it’s extremely malleable and easy to manipulate. It is no surprise, then, that early peoples associated gold with the gods and immortality, and that we still use it in jewelry today.

Its natural beauty and workable ease made it an ideal trading medium, and it became one of the first currencies to replace traditional bartering. The earliest gold coins were minted in the Asia Minor Kingdom of Lydia in 550 B.C., and the metal has remained a staple of the monetary system ever since, accordin to Gold.com.

Even after our contemporary paper money was adopted, currencies remained linked by way of the Gold Standard, a system introduced in the 1870s that fixed the value of those currencies to a specific amount of gold. In 1933, Franklin D. Roosevelt took the United States off the standard and in 1971, ties were completely severed between gold and the U.S. dollar.

Bigger and Better Things

Not long after FDR’s abandonment of the gold standard, gold began proving its worth in medicine and technological development. A French medical study in 1927 proved gold to be useful as a treatment for rheumatoid arthritis, a claim confirmed by the European Rheumatism Council in 1960.

In 1935, Western Electric Alloy #1 (consisting of (69% gold, 25% silver, and 6% platinum) was used as the universal switching contact for all AT&T telecommunications equipment, according to Graystone. 25 years later, AT&T Bell Laboratories used gold-coated mirrors to maximize infrared reflection, creating the first laser.

We took gold with us to space in 1965, coating astronauts’ visors as protection against harmful radiation, a technology still used today. Only three years later, in 1968, Intel created the first computer microchip using gold circuitry, and the precious metal remains ubiquitous in all computers, cellphones, and tablets, as Dell explains.

In Medicine

Gold has been commonly used in dentistry for fillings and crowns, thanks to its durability. It also shows promise in the battle against cancer, as its radioactive isotope Au-198 can be directly injected into a tumor, as LiveScience explains. The radiation will attack the cancer cells without greatly affecting the rest of the body. Other cancer drugs leverage gold nanoparticles to more directly treat tumors while limiting the toxic exposure to healthy cells.

As we continue to find more uses for gold, we will inevitably need more of it. To help meet the demand, gold mines around the world can count on Midwest Industrial Supply, Inc. for their infrastructural needs. Gold has a rich past and a bright future ahead of it, and Midwest is excited to be there every step of the way. Learn more about our work with gold mines worldwide.

(Main image credit: wah_lee/flickr)

About Author

Marc Poirier

Written by Marc Poirier

Marc Poirier is Midwest's Engineering Technology Manager for the Mining group. His primary focus is Mining & Industrial Solutions.

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