Charles Sanford Thayer

He was called “Mr. Aluminum” and he played a major role in transforming Vancouver from a sleepy village to a modern industrial city.

When Charles Sanford Thayer died Feb. 22, 1978, in Vancouver at the age of 87, he left behind a legacy of 38 years of industrial leadership and community service.

It was Thayer and other executives of the Aluminum Company of America (Alcoa) who in the fall of 1939 drafted the plans for the first aluminum plant west of the Mississippi. The plant, on the Columbia River just downstream from Vancouver, was the first building block in a pattern of growth that was to make Washington the nation’s leading producer of aluminum.

The first gleaming ingot was produced at the Vancouver plant on Sept. 23, 1940. “It was fortunate that we had the time to carefully plan the Vancouver works, because that design became the basic plan for eight other plants erected by Alcoa during the war,” Thayer was to reveal later. “The government needed aluminum in a hurry, and we were ready.”

Thayer remained superintendent of the Vancouver plant and later Alcoa’s entire Northwest operations until his retirement in 1956. After retirement he remained active in community service. His long list of activities included member of Vancouver School Board, leader in state parole and probation groups, Junior Achievement and the Vancouver Chamber of Commerce, among many others.