C., on December 1, 1921, nearly two years before the Navy's first rigid helium-filled airship, the Naval Aircraft Factory-built USS Shenandoah, flew in September 1923.
Although the extraction process, using low-temperature gas liquefaction, was not developed in time to be significant during World War I, production continued.
In 1903, large reserves of helium were found in natural gas fields in parts of the United States, which is by far the largest supplier of the gas today.
Liquid helium is used in cryogenics (its largest single use, absorbing about a quarter of production), particularly in the cooling of superconducting magnets, with the main commercial application being in MRI scanners.
As with any gas whose density differs from that of air, inhaling a small volume of helium temporarily changes the timbre and quality of the human voice.
In scientific research, the behavior of the two fluid phases of helium-4 (helium I and helium II) is important to researchers studying quantum mechanics (in particular the property of superfluidity) and to those looking at the phenomena, such as superconductivity, produced in matter near absolute zero.
In 1972, the same phenomenon was observed in helium-3, but at temperatures much closer to absolute zero, by American physicists Douglas D. This enabled the United States to become the world's leading supplier of helium.
Following a suggestion by Sir Richard Threlfall, the United States Navy sponsored three small experimental helium plants during World War I.
Helium's other industrial uses—as a pressurizing and purge gas, as a protective atmosphere for arc welding and in processes such as growing crystals to make silicon wafers—account for half of the gas produced.
A well-known but minor use is as a lifting gas in balloons and airships.
This helium-4 binding energy also accounts for why it is a product of both nuclear fusion and radioactive decay.