At the Palace of Versailles one evening sometime in the 1840s a group of royals sat down for dinner. Napoleon III, eager to impress his guest, the King of Siam, pulled out all the stops. His troops dined with silver cutlery while Napoleon himself used gold. The highest honor, however, went to the visiting monarch, who cut into his cuisine with -- wait for it -- aluminum.

“It turns out that in the mid-1800s, aluminum was the most precious metal on the planet,” says Peter Diamandis, space pioneer and author. “Even though the earth is made of 8.3% aluminum by weight, all of the aluminum on earth is bound to oxygen and silicates to form a clay-like substance called bauxite, and it was so energetically difficult to remove the aluminum from the bauxite that it was worth more than gold and platinum.”

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