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A pioneer of Canada’s mining and metallurgy industry, Lloyd Pidgeon is best known for the development of the process for the production of high purity magnesium. The process, which bares his name, remains to this day unrivalled in the production of the world’s highest purity magnesium metal. However, history will also remember Pidgeon for developing technology that played a significant part in the ultimate victory of the Allied Forces in 1945.
Pidgeon was born in Markham, Ontario, but lived in a number of Canadian cities where his father worked as a minister. He graduated in 1925 as gold medalist in chemistry from the University of Manitoba, and then studied at McGill University, obtaining his M.Sc. in 1927 followed by a Ph.D. in 1929.
After several years at Oxford University, Pidgeon joined the National Research Council of Canada, initially working on electrochemical problems. During this period, he developed his well known process for the production of magnesium metal of high purity, using the reaction between calcined dolomite and ferrosilicon.
Practical commercial production still had to be proved, however. At that stage, a group of prominent mining men from Toronto, R.J. Jowsey, Thayer Lindsley and W.M. Segsworth, became interested in the project and raised capital that enabled Pidgeon to establish a pilot plant. After a year and a half, all parties were convinced the method could be used commercially.
Pidgeon’s discovery led to the formation of Dominion Magnesium, which he joined in 1941 as a director of research. The plant is now owned and operated by Timminco. Because of the demand for magnesium during the Second World War, six magnesium plants were built throughout the North American continent. Magnesium was used for a variety of military efforts and was considered to be the metal of choice where strength with lightness was required, as for example, in aircraft.
In 1943, Pidgeon was appointed professor and head of the department of metallurgical engineering at the University of Toronto, a post he held until his retirement in 1969. Because of his far reaching influence and personal efforts, he built a strong graduate school in the field of metallurgy, making it one of the best departments in Canada, if not the world. He taught his students the importance of sound science and professional responsibility, and thus played an influential role in shaping Canada’s mining and metallurgy industry as we know it today.
Throughout his distinguished and varied career at the university, Pidgeon remained a consultant to Dominion Magnesium, and subsequently to Timminco. His ongoing involvement was instrumental in providing technological assistance to further refine the original magnesium process. He was also involved in developing similar metallothermic reduction technology for the production of calcium and strontium. Based on this technology, Canada remains a world leader in the production of these two alkaline earth metals, which today have important applications in the production of both ferrous and nonferrous alloys and castings. Pidgeon has received many honors for his contributions, including the Order of the British Empire in 1946. Dr. Pidgeon was also made an “Officer” of the Order of Canada in July 1996.