Reynolds Metals Company (Richmond)

The Reynolds Metals Company was founded in the year 1919 by Richard S. Reynolds, who was a nephew of R.J. Reynolds, owner of a large tobacco processing company. The company’s beginnings were in Louisville, Kentucky, and specialized in the manufacturing of lead and tin wrappings for various products such as cigarettes and candies. Known originally as U.S. Foil, the company expanded by purchasing the makers of Eskimo Pies and Beechnut Foil, changing the name of the now enlarged firm to Reynolds Metals Company in 1928.

For a short period the company was headquartered in New York City, but moved to Richmond, Virginia, in 1938. It was already a leading producer of aluminum-lined paper bags and heat-sealed foil bags. In 1941 Reynolds Metals opened its own aluminum processing plant in Sheffield, Alabama, and six years later unveiled its most famous product, the easy to use Reynolds Wrap foil. In addition the company began production of aluminum siding for homes and commercial buildings, and later produced concept aluminum vehicle parts and the world’s first aluminum hull submarine.

By 1991, the company had grown to include production plants in other parts of the country, including a large facility in Longview, Washington, and mining operations around the world. At this time over 30,000 workers called Reynolds Metal Company their employer. In 2000 Reynolds was acquired by Alcoa, and this merger created the largest aluminum manufacturing company in the United States.  The Alcoa Company owned Reynolds as a separately named subsidiary, and its consumer products division was purchased in 2008 by Graeme Hart, a prominent New Zealand businessman who merged his other holdings with Reynolds to create what is presently known as the Reynolds Group Holdings.

When producing aluminum from the naturally occurring alumina, specialized smelting operations are employed that include electrolysis and extremely hot reduction containers, from which the pure aluminum is extracted. Plants of this type often used the inexpensive and readily available asbestos material to act as an insulator for boiler rooms, steam pipes and walls and ceilings that would otherwise weaken from constant exposure to high temperatures. Asbestos was also used in protective clothing for workers at these facilities. Asbestos can actually work as a kind of carcinogen, and the serious malignancy known as mesothelioma is caused exclusively by long-term exposure to airborne fibers of the mineral. Former workers at Reynolds Metals Company may have symptoms that do not show until several decades after their employment ended.