Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 4.djvu/468

This page has been validated.
452
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

CORUNDUM.

WITHIN the past two years, the attention of the scientific world, especially, has been directed to the above mineral, from the fact of its discovery, in place, in this country. A number of communications on the subject have been published by prominent men, the most important of which are those from Profs. Genth and Lesley, of the University of Pennsylvania; Prof. Charles U. Shepard, of Amherst College; Dr. A C. Hamlin, of Bangor; and Dr. J. Lawrence Smith, of Kentucky. These papers are mostly of value to men of scientific pursuits. Our readers will be interested in more detailed information as to this mineral, and the locality where first in the history of the world it is legitimately mined.

Although corundum has been in use, as an abrasive, from an early age, and under various names, it was not until near the commencement of the present century that its localities were found and examined by scholars, and its true place in mineralogy determined. For thousands of years the Chinese had used it, under the name of adamantine spar; the Persians, as Armenian whetsone; the Hindoos, as corundum; and the Egyptians, as the iron-stone of the Red Sea. The natives of these countries had gathered it from the beds of mountain-torrents, or in the alluvium of the valleys, after the annual rains had washed it down, freeing it, in the transit, from its associate minerals and impurities; but no attempt at its legitimate mining had ever been made until within the past two years, in the United States, in the State of North Carolina. The mineral, from whatever locality it comes, is now known in science and commerce as corundum—the name given it by the Hindoos, and meaning cinnamon-stone, from the resemblance in color to that article, of the variety found in their country. It is pure crystallized clay or alumina, and is the next hardest substance in Nature to the diamond, reducing to powder all substances save that gem.

Until the researches of Haüy, the distinguished French savant, about the commencement of this century, the three forms of alumina known as sapphire, corundum, and emery, were supposed to be distinct species. His analysis made them three varieties of one species a decision confirmed by chemists since, and now universally accepted. The earliest extended reference to corundum, of any value to science or trade, appears in a joint paper by Count Bournon, of Paris, and Sir Charles Greville, of London, prepared for the Royal Historical Society of London, in 1798; which was soon followed by a more careful mineralogical treatise, by the first-named scientist, prepared by him for the same society. Sir Charles Greville's observations were