Photograph of tin can

Wikimedia Commons

Tin is a moderately expensive metal (costing 52 cents a pound in 1940) whose primary use is in copper alloys such as bronzes and brasses.  Tin hardens the alloy and imparts added corrosion resistance.  Another important use of tin is as tin plate to protect easily corroded metals such as iron and its alloys.  Many low-melting alloys such as solder and type metal include tin in their composition.

Tin ore is primarily cassiterite, a tin oxide.  This is concentrated and reduced with carbon, then resmelted to remove impurities.  If very high purity is needed, the tin is refined electrolytically.

Nowhere is tin found more abundantly than in Southeast Asia.  Malaya was the world’s leading producer of tin in 1941, and important deposits were found in the Netherlands East Indies, Burma, and Thailand. All these areas fell under Japanese control early in the war.  The Allies were forced to rely on South American sources for most of their tin, although historically Cornwall in Britain was an important source of tin and was still producing in 1941. China also produced significant tin, but under wartime conditions production dropped from 17,000 tons in 1940 to 4000 tons in 1943. It was sometimes U.S. practice to substitute silicon for tin in bronzes to conserve the limited supply.

Tin mines in the Pacific





Kuala Lumpur







Cohen (1949)

Van Royen and Bowles (1952)

U.S. Geological Survey (accessed 29 December 2006)

Van Royen and Bowles (1952)

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