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Tin is a white metallic element that people have used since ancient times. The earliest known use of tin occurred sometime after 3500 B.C. in the Zagros Mountains of what is now western Iran. The people of that region made such articles as weapons and tools from bronze, an alloy of tin and copper. Today, tin is used chiefly in the production of tin plate. Tin plate consists of steel coated on both sides with an extremely thin film of tin. Most tin plate is made into tin cans.
Uses. The coating on tin cans protects the steel in the cans from rust and provides an attractive appearance. Tin also prevents the weak acids in food from damaging the inside of the cans.
Tin coatings also protect many other items. Most paper clips, safety pins, straight pins, and staples are made of steel or brass coated with tin. Many food-preparation containers and utensils have tin coatings.
The second most important use of tin is in solders, which are alloys used to join metal surfaces. Solders made primarily of tin and lead are called soft solders and melt at relatively low temperatures. Other important tin alloys include bronze and pewter.
The malleability of tin enables manufacturers to make tin into extremely thin foil. One use for such foil is as a moistureproof wrapping. Terneplate is iron coated with an alloy of lead and tin. Sheets or strips of terneplate are used for roofing and in making such products as fuel tanks and fire extinguishers.
Manufacturers improve the properties of various metals by adding small amounts of tin. For example, cast iron that contains only 0.1 percent tin is much more durable and easier to work with than ordinary cast iron. Many other products, including bearings, dental fillings, and printing alloys, also contain small amounts of tin, which improves their properties.
Tin combines with other elements to form a great number of useful compounds. Many toothpastes contain stannous fluoride, a compound of tin and fluorine that helps prevent tooth decay. Certain compounds that contain tin and carbon are used as pesticides.