Tin was one of the earliest metals known to humanity. Because of its hardening effects on copper, tin was used in bronze implements as early as 3500 B.C. Bronze, a copper-tin alloy that could be sharpened and was hard enough to retain a cutting edge, was used for the manufacture of construction tools and hunting and war weapons.
Today, most tin is used as a protective coating or as an alloy with other metals. Tin is used as a coating for steel cans, in solders for joining pipes or electrical conductors, and in bearing and other alloys for widely diversified applications. Tin is essential to an industrial society and in many applications for which there are no completely satisfactory substitutes.
Domestic reserves of tin are small, and significant domestic production has never occurred and seems unlikely to in the next few decades. Virtually all primary tin to meet U.S. requirements is imported largely from Southeast Asia and South America. This supply pattern has long existed and is expected to continue. About 35 countries are engaged in either tin mining or smelting and are dispersed widely throughout the world, in both free market and centrally planned economies. Most tin mining and smelting occurs in developing countries. Historically, it was typical for tin mining to occur in a developing country, and then the tin concentrates were shipped thousands of miles away to a developed country to be smelted and then used. Since the 1950's, however, tin mining and smelting have been typically performed in the same developing country, and the refined tin is then shipped to the industrialized countries to be consumed.
Following World War II and the start of the U.S. Government stockpile for wartime purposes, tin became a major factor in the stockpile and generally since then has been the largest nonfuel mineral in the stockpile based on value. Since 1960, sales of excess tin have been made from the stockpile.
From 1956 to 1985, tin was the subject of a unique world commodity pact called the International Tin Agreement (ITA). This was a complex agreement involving the world's major tin producing and consuming countries. Through mechanisms such as export quotas and its own tin buffer stockpile, it attempted to stabilize the supply and demand of tin. The ITA collapsed in late 1985 when it exhausted its credit trying to support the market price of tin. As a result of this situation, tin was delisted from trading on the London Metal Exchange (LME), and large lawsuits were brought by creditors against the ITA and the LME.
The United States is the world's largest user of primary tin. Domestically, scrap tin has long been an important factor in meeting domestic needs, supplying about 20% of total tin demand. Scrap tin originates both from detinned tinplate and, more importantly, from the various alloyed forms of tin.
- Table 1.--Salient tin statistics
- Table 2.--Tin: world mine production, by country
- Table 3.--Tin: world smelter production, by country
- Table 4.--U.S. imports for consumption of tin, by country
- Table 5.--U.S. exports of tin
- Table 6.--Department of Defense stockpile disposals of tin
- Table 7.--Domestic primary and secondary consumption of tin
- Table 8.--Tin prices
- Table 9.--U.S. industry yearend tin stocks