As with many scientific names, there are multiple spellings for the element "aluminum" with an atomic number
of 13, atomic weight of 26.98 and elemental symbol "Al". British chemist Sir Humphry Davy first identified
but could not isolate this silvery white metal. He knew that the metal base for "alum", a mineral dye, existed,
but he was never able extract it. He did name it based on its elemental origin. Hans Christian Oersted is, by and
large, credited with actually discovering it due to his reactions that yielded metals from salts and Friedrich
Wohler is credited first ever isolating it.(1)
Sir Humphry Davy began with a derivation of the name for a mineral dye by the name of "alum". The first
name given to the new element was "alumium" in 1807. He then changed the name to "aluminum".
Eventually, in 1812, Davy changed the name to "aluminium" in order to sound more like the other elements he
had already named, including sodium and potassium.(2)
It seemed that most of the scientific community favored the "aluminium" name initially. Strangely, however,
after about 1900, the originally accepted spelling of "aluminum" became about two times more prevalent in
written works, including newspapers, than the latter spelling. As a result, this is the spelling, which became the
most used through out the United States but not in Britain.(2)
From the time the metal was first isolated, until a less difficult process was engineered, aluminum was very
expensive. Therefore, at the time the nomenclature debate was taking place, aluminum was so expensive that it
was only used for very special projects. Consequently, aluminum was not an abundantly used resource, and the
spelling issue did not come into play very often. Examples of the special projects made from aluminum during
that time include special dinner plates for Napoleon III and the tip of the Washington Monument and the
approximate price per ounce was more than an average worker's day's pay.(1)
After all of the spelling both ways in different places, the American Chemical Society (ACS), officially
declared in 1926 the proper spelling to be "aluminum" in all ACS publications. Most American dictionaries,
including the American Heritage Dictionary, use "aluminum" as the proper spelling and the "aluminium"
spelling as a British variant. It is a bit more standardize in Britain than just a variant, however. In 1990, The
International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) affirmed the standard international name as
"aluminium" with "aluminum" as an accepted variant and their periodic table uses both names.(1)
It would seem that with the final name decision being "aluminium" that it would be the only version of the word
in use today, but that is not the case. In the United States, the ACS version still stands while in Britain, the
IUPAC version is the most widely used.(2) Considering there was no etiological reason for the two versions or
any specific reason to choose one over the other, this simple difference of spelling has certainly gone from one
to the other from the beginning of the two words with no complete agreement anywhere. Taking into account
that neither is any more right or wrong that the other, there does not seem to be a reason to abolish either. This
is simply another case where scientists alone have created a scientific idiosyncrasy.
(1) Wikipedia, "Aluminum"
(2) World Wide Words, "Aluminium versus aluminum"