A Brief History of Stainless Steel.

Harry Brearley is commonly regarded as the inventor of “Stainless Steel” in Sheffield, however, his path was laid by a number of scientists and engineers.

In 1820 (or thereabouts) Stoddard and Farraday, two Englishmen and French metallurgist, Pierre Berthier recognised that iron-chromium alloys were able to resist attacks by some acids. However, it was Clark and Woods (two Englishmen) who first patented an acid resistant iron alloy (containing 30-35% chromium and 2% tungsten) that would be today be regarded as stainless steel.

A major development was when Frenchman, Brustlein, in 1875 documented the importance of  low carbon content in making corrosion resistant steel. Moving on a few years, Frenchman, Leon Gillet had talked about the constitution of stainless steel in 1904. For Gillet, though, he never acknowledged the corrosive resistance of the steel. it was Philip Monnartz of Germany, in 1911, who published the first detailed work on the corrosion resistance of stainless steel.

The following year, 1912, his fellow Germans, Eduard Maurer and Benno Strauss, were the first to patent austenitic stainless steel of a 21% chromium and 7% nickel combination. Austenitic refers to a higher chromium stainless steel, usually required in high or low temperatures, which tends to be more corrosion resistant than the lower chromium ferritic or “Martensitic” stainless steel, named after the German metallurgist Adolf Martens – referring to a very hard form of steel crystalline structure.

So we come now to Harry Brearley.

In 1912, in Sheffield, while seeking a corrosion-resistant alloy for gun barrels during his work at the Brown-Firth research laboratory, Brearley discovered a martensitic stainless steel alloy. The discovery was mentioned in a January 1915 newspaper article in The New York Times. It wasn’t originally called “Stainless Steel”, it was marketed under the “Staybrite” brand by Firth Vickers in England and one of the prominent uses was for the new entrance canopy for the Savoy Hotel in London in 1929.

Brearley subsequently applied for a US patent during 1915, but discovered that Elwood Haynes had applied for a US patent on a martensitic stainless steel alloy. After a number of disputes, cooperation was finally achieved and both Brearley and Haynes consolidated their funding, along with investors to eventually form the American Stainless Steel Corporation.