Silver is considered to be a precious metal and was one of the earliest metals known to humans. Silver has been used as a form of currency by more people throughout history than any other metal, even gold. Silver was first discovered about 4000 B.C. in the nugget form.
While today silver is mostly used for silverware, silver goods, and coins, there is evidence that silver utensils and ornaments have been found in ancient tombs of Chaldea, Mesopotamia, Egypt, China, Persia, and Greece. In 1993, Mexico was the world’s largest producer of silver and the United States was the second leading producer, followed by Canada, Australia, Spain, Peru, and Russia. That year, worldwide production of silver from mines totaled 548.2 million ounces. Most of the silver that is used in the world today is used for industrial purposes, and the United States is the leading buyer. Other top consumers include Japan, India, and eastern European countries.
Silver is the whitest metallic element. It is rare, strong, corrosion resistant, and unaffected by moisture, vegetable acids, or alkalis. Silver is also resonant, moldable, malleable, and possesses the highest thermal and electric conductivity of any substance. The chemical symbol for silver is Ag, from the Latin argentums, which means white and shining. Silver does not react to many chemicals but it does react with sulfur, which is always present in the air, even in miniscule amounts. The reaction causes silver to tarnish; therefore, it must be polished periodically to retain its luster.
Silver possesses many special physical characteristics and qualities that make it very useful. The photography industry is the largest user of silver compounds. Silver forms the most light-sensitive salts, or halides, which are needed to develop high-quality photography. Silver has the highest electrical conductivity per unit volume of any metal, including copper, so it is used often in electronics.