Marvel's Black Panther establishes Vibranium's origins in the MCU, as well as giving us an idea how the people of Wakanda have utilized their coveted resource for hundreds of years. But it still doesn't explain how Howard Stark got a hold of it enough to make Captain America's shield during WWII, as seen in The First Avenger. Given that the African nation had been an isolationist country until T'Challa decided to open their borders, it's curious exactly how and when Tony's father acquired the rare metal.
The recent EW cover story on Avengers: Infinity War may have shed some light on the mystery. Chadwick Boseman spoke of Cap's brand new shield, stating it was created by Shuri from Vibranium while also insinuating that the metal used for Rogers' original shield has been taken and not freely offered. Considering that the older Stark didn't divulge much about the manner in which he got his Vibranium, this gives us the impression that Howard may have stolen the material from Wakanda. Although there may have been other ways how he was able to get his hands on the rare resource.
Ulysses Klaue told Agent Everett Ross in Black Panther that he's the only person to have infiltrated Wakanda and come out alive (in 1992). Of course, he had help from N'Jobu, but he maintains that no one has ever successfully entered (and exited) the fictitious nation aside from him. But perhaps there were other black market dealers (or even just outsiders) before his time - some of which had ties with Howard. After all, some earlier Wakandan artifacts ended up in the British Museum which Killmonger said were forcefully taken from the central African country.
There are several potential explanations. Perhaps Howard wasn't actually referencing Wakanda when he said he got Vibranium "from the deepest of Africa". Vibranium's meteorite origins as revealed in Black Panther allows the possibility that some bits and pieces of the material landed outside the borders of the kingdom, and even in some distant parts of the continent. Scientifically, meteors usually break up once they hit the atmosphere, allowing some fragments to crash separately from the bulk of it. The comics posit the same notion when a small South Atlantic island was discovered to have Vibranium foundation by the petroleum company Roxxon. Given the amount of Vibranium needed to make Cap's shield (Howard said it's the only supply remaining), his people may have only stumbled upon a small quantity of the rare resource.
There's also the possibility that the Vibranium was gifted to Howard (or his men) by Wakandans - something that T'Challa isn't aware of. If anything, Black Panther established that there are a lot of secrets even within the Wakandan Royal Family. King Azzuri, the reigning monarch and Black Panther in the 1940s, may have struck a deal with some of the explorers sent by the older Stark; their silence regarding the country's secret and in exchange for a small quantity of the metal. Considering that S.H.I.E.L.D. was already monitoring Wakanda (as illustrated by an Easter Egg in Iron Man 2), it's not out of the question there's more history between the country and the wider world.
With Howard no longer in the picture, the burden to come clean regarding the mystery of what T'Challa believes is stolen Vibranium lies on Tony Stark. While Wakanda has been welcoming to outsiders such as Bucky, Cap and the rest of their team, it will be interesting how the Wakandans view the younger Stark when/if he ever sets foot in the fictitious nation knowing that his father was supposedly involved in stealing their resources. Whether that will be touched on Infinity War or Avengers 4 remains to be seen, but it's a long-standing mystery that the MCU will have to eventually answer.
Update: An earlier version of this article stated Wakanda was located in south Africa. This has been corrected.
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