Interesting facts about the tin plague

In 1868, Academician K. Fritzsche presented a report at a meeting of the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences that all tin buttons and bars were scattered in military and customs warehouses. The metal, for unknown reasons, turned into a gray dust, similar to alkaline detergents. Following this speech, the Academy began to receive a huge number of messages from various places in Europe and even North America.

All bright minds of science agreed on the opinion that tin gets cold and then crumbles. And there was a lot of evidence of this:

For example, a freight train from Holland, transporting tin bars to Moscow, caused considerable surprise among the station workers when it turned out that all the metal had turned into heaps of gray powder. At the Nerchinsk mines, during severe frosts, all tin spoons and bowls were scattered.

Some historians believe that one of the reasons for the defeat of Napoleon's army in Russia in 1812 was that severe frosts led to the transformation of the tin buttons on the uniforms of soldiers into powder. The unfortunate soldiers of the great Napoleonic army then froze deeply, wandering through our endless Russian expanses.

The most detailed study of this problem was prompted by the death of Scott's expedition in 1912, which was the first to reach the South Pole, but could not return. In the middle of the snowy desert, people were left without fuel, since kerosene flowed out of the tanks that collapsed for some unknown reason, which were soldered with tin.

For a long time, scientists could not explain such a strange behavior of the metal, and only recently it became clear that the reason lies in the change in the crystal structure of tin under the influence of low temperatures.

It turned out that tin infects the "tin plague". The polymorphic transformation of "white tin" into "gray" has been known for a long time - in the warehouses of many armies, it happened that buttons on overcoats, or bowlers were missing. However, it was not immediately clear that this phenomenon develops only at low temperatures - the process proceeds most rapidly at –33 ° C. Moreover, if the affected things are adjacent to the whole, the infection of the "healthy" metal occurs, just like in a real "human" plague. The "tin plague" destroyed many of the most valuable collections of tin soldiers. For example, in the storerooms of the St. Petersburg Museum of Alexander Suvorov, dozens of figures turned into dust - in the basement where they were stored, the heating batteries burst in winter.

The "cure" for such a disease of the metal was the creation of a new alloy of tin with metals stabilizing its "inconstancy". The British manufacturers' guild has created a plague-resistant tin alloy called pewter, composed of 93% tin, 5% antimony and 2% copper and is used in the manufacture of dishes, household items, and jewelry. Even the famous "America's Cup" and Oscar statuettes are made from pewter and only then covered with gold and silver.