It was said in olden times that alchemists could turn ordinary metals into gold. This supposed transformation was really a result of electroplating. Electroplating is the process by which a base material can be covered with other metals to diversify its function, improve its durability, or enhance its appearance. Alchemists of old might have started with a copper rod and, through electroplating, coated it in shimmering gold. The copper rod was still at the base of the new iteration, but to the naked eye, it looked like the rod had been completely transformed.

Story of Electroplating

Developments Along the Way

Electroplating is one of mankind’s most impressive inventions. The patent for the process was obtained in 1840. Many people attribute the procedure to Italian inventor Luigi Valentino Brugnatelli who started work on the process decades earlier. Indeed, he was very instrumental in developing electroplating, but many others contributed as well.

Alessandro Volta advanced the technology by inventing the voltaic pile. This is basically a group of voltaic cells arranged in a row and is capable of generating an electrical current. In essence, this was the very first electrical battery. This discovery hastened the realization that metals can be used to transmit electricity. It later became the foundation for electrodeposition, which is a key component in electrical plating.

Building on Volta’s developments, Luigi Brugnatelli discovered the process of electroplating. He successfully coated silver with a thin layer of gold back in 1805. He published his discovery in the Belgian Journal of Physics and Chemistry, but it wasn’t until 1839 that the process was revisited.

John Wright would discover the use of potassium cyanide as the electrolyte solution needed to facilitate the electroplating process. Shortly afterward, George and Henry Elkington would buy Wright’s patents, as well as other silver and gold electroplating patents. The two British cousins would be the first to find commercial success with the process, creating decorative metal and plated silverware to sell. By the mid-1850s, people were applying the science to jewelry, creating electroplated adornments that were far more economical than jewelry made of solid gold and silver.

Today, the electroplating process continues to become faster and more efficient and fuels the electronics industry. So many of the devices and appliances that make our lives easier and more efficient are made possible due to electroplating. As you power up our laptop, rev up our automobile, or pull a cold drink out of the refrigerator, it’s easy to take for granted the processes that make these conveniences possible. Though rarely considered on a daily basis by the general public, electroplating is at the heart of modern day life.