Alcan was a Canadian mining company and aluminum manufacturer. It was founded in 1902 as the Northern Aluminum Company, renamed Aluminum Company of Canada in 1925, and Alcan Aluminum in 1966. It took the name Alcan Incorporated in 2001. During that time, it grew to become one of the world's largest aluminum manufacturers.
The Northern Aluminium Company Limited was founded in 1902, in Shawinigan, Quebec, as part of the Pittsburgh Reduction Company. In 1913, the company opened a kitchen utensil production plant and foundry in Toronto. It opened a rolling mill in the plant a few years later.
In 1925, the company was renamed the Aluminium Company of Canada. The Aluminium Company of Canada was responsible for rapid development in Arvida, today a part of the city of Saguenay in Quebec, by contributing to the construction of major ports and railway facilities. It began production at its sheet rolling and extrusion facility in Ontario in 1940.
In 1931, the Northern Aluminium Co. Ltd. or Alcan Industries Ltd. pig and rolled Aluminium factory was opened on land acquired in 1929 in the then hamlet of Hardwick, West Oxfordshire, England. The factory helped build parts for Spitfire fighter aircraft during World War II. The Alcan Laboratories Club was founded in 1948 by the lab technicians to promote the well-being of the workforce in general. As a result, the village began to grow. By the early 1950s, the local economy had become dependent on the plant's prosperity, with 24% of the town's workers being employed there. At this time 13% were employed in distribution, 7% in clothing and 5% in agriculture.
With the onset of World War II, the Allies' demand for aluminum expanded rapidly, and with it the company. Already encompassing roughly three-quarters of the production capacity for aluminum in the British Empire, the company's "assets increased fivefold; sales increased fivefold; net income increased sixfold" between 1937 and 1944, according to a report on commissioned by the Government of Canada. The governments of the UK, Canada, the United States, and Australia facilitated this growth with low-interest loans and tax deferrals.
In 1945, the Aluminium Company of Canada was officially registered under the trade name Alcan. Sales fell substantially in the immediate aftermath of the War, but rebounded with postwar expansion, as aluminum was increasingly in use in construction, by electrical utilities, and in manufacturing. In 1951, it initiated a $500-million project at Kitimat, British Columbia, the largest public-private partnership ever introduced in Canada at the time.
Despite a June 1950 antitrust ruling that forced shareholders divest themselves of shares in either Aluminum Limited (as the company was then known) or Alcoa, and the rise of American rivals Kaiser and Reynolds, Alcan remained a dominant player in the aluminum sector for many subsequent decades.
Between 1998 and 2001, the Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean became the largest construction site in North America, as Alcan undertook a $3-billion construction project in Alma with a yearly production capacity of 400,000 metric tonnes. In 2000, Alcan acquired Algroup (Alusuisse Group Ltd.), merging the companies to become Alcan, Inc. in 2001. Alcan became the second biggest primary aluminium production company. It then became the world's largest aluminium manufacturer in 2004 after acquiring the Pechiney Group, the fourth player in worldwide production and fabrication of aluminium and the number three in packaging.
In 2007, Rio Tinto acquired Alcan, in a US$38 billion deal. The offer served to undermine a hostile bid of $27.5bn from Alcoa, Alcan's US rival. Rio Tinto became the world's leading aluminum producer. Rio Tinto quickly announced its intention to sell off the Engineered Products and Packaging business groups. Alcan Incorporated was amalgamated with Rio Tinto Canada Holding Incorporated and renamed Rio Tinto Alcan Incorporated in 2008.
In 2011, Rio Tinto sold Apollo Global Management and FSI (Fonds stratégique d'investissement) shareholdings of 51% and 10% respectively of Alcan Engineered Products (excluding Cable). Rio Tinto retained 39%.