Adrien Badin was born in the small rural town of Salindres, France in 1842. Historically, Salindres had been a center for silkworm production. However, by the late 19thC it had been transformed by its embrace of a new technology and was now known as “the cradle of aluminum”. Adrien Badin, considered to be a brilliant chemical engineer and manager, soon became Director General of the dominant aluminum producer in Salindres. In 1912, at the age of 32, he was made Managing Director of L’Aluminium Francaise, a European Aluminum Cartel. That same year, French run Southern Aluminium Co was newly formed and A. Badin was named its President.
Adrien Badin and Southern Aluminum would be the first foreign company to enter the competitive US aluminum market. The mass production of the automobile was driving the growth in the aluminum industry. Up until this time, U.S. aluminum production was controlled by one company: ALCOA. However, in order for the French company to be able to compete, they would need to find an affordable source of hydro-electric power. They did just that by purchasing a bankrupt North Carolina enterprise started by George Whitney.
In 1912 Southern Aluminium came to the Yadkin River Valley to purchase the assets of Whitney Development Co. Original plans were to continue the “Old Whitney” project. Newly arrived French surveyors and engineers canvassed the area; they quickly came to the conclusion that long term interests would be better served by abandoning the Whitney Project, sooner rather than later . Instead, they would move the focus of their project to “the Narrows”.
A dam would be built spanning the Yadkin River at that point and the townsite would be built in the area around Ebenezer Baptist Church. In 1912 they completed the land purchase and construction was underway in 1913. New York firm Pierson & Goodrich was hired to design a modern townsite that would attract the skilled labor Southern Aluminium Co needed. Hardaway Construction Company was hired to build the Narrows Dam.
In 1914 WWI broke out. All French nationals on the crew of civil engineers were immediately called home. A significant footprint had been made by the French, but still plans for the town, factory and dam were all left unfinished. . . in varying degrees. Once back in France, Badin converted his Salindres chemical factory to a munitions factory. He died in 1917 never having seen the town named for him.
In 1976 Ferdinand Badin, the son of Adrien, visited the town named in honor of his father. He was warmly welcomed by ALCOA. A.J. Rice, one of Alcoa’s earliest employees, recounted his memories of the French foundation that the town was built on.