History of Stainless Steel

Updated - While Brearley is given credit by most for the invention of stainles steel, French scientist Leon Gillet had documented the constitution of stainless steel in 1904. While Gillet noted the composition and properties of his alloy mix, he never recognized the corrosive resistance of the material. In 1911 Philip Monnartz of Germany published the first detailed work on the corrosion resistance of stainless steel.  In 1912, two German's at the Krupp Iron Works, Eduard Maurer and Benno Strauss, patented the first austenitic stainless steel of a 21% chromium and 7% nickel combination. Brearley patented the first martensitic stainless in 1913. While Brearley is generally given credit for the discovery of stainless, many historians feel this is disputable.

Harry Brearley was born on Feb 18, 1871 and by 1907 was in charge of the Brown-Firth Research Labratory in Sheffield, England. The lab was investigating ways to eliminate rust in gun barrels, when by accident, Mr Byerly noticed a discarded steel sample from an earlier test was not rusting, while other samples were. The result was a chrome alloy steel, much more rust resistant than seen before. The date was June 4, 1912. Two months later, on August 20, 1912, stainless steel was cast for the first time.

Brearley immediately set out to market his new invention. He called his new metal "rustless steel". Sheffield, known as a city of cutlery manufacturers, and the new material , a forerunner of today's 420, seemed to be a perfect replacement for silver or nickel plated steel. But manufacturers were hesitant, so Brearley had one make him some knives. One manufacturer, Ernest Stuart, upon testing the material in vinegar suggested a more marketable name of "stainless steel". By 1914, the George Ibberson & Co,  using stainless manufactured by Thomas Firth & Sons, began producing stainless steel knives. The product was not an immediate success, and Brealey soon earned the reputation of being the inventor of the "knife that would not cut".

Brearley left Firth, over an ownership dispute of the stainless steel invention, and W. H. Hatfield became his successor. In 1924, Hatfield patented the 18-8 stainless steel, 18% chromium and 8% nickel. This austentic stainless would soon rise to become the most popular and widely used type of stainless steel. Adding titanium to the 18-8, Hatfield is also credited with the invention of 321 stainless. In the earlier years, German scientists, such as the Krupp Research Institues, were the quickest to realize the potential of austentic stainless, inventing 316, among others.

As PBS reported in its special "The Streamliners"...
"Stainless steel, with its sleek, shiny surface and tremendous strength, is a marvel of technology. It has revolutionized most modern industries, including food, medicine, and transportation. The non-corrosive and rust-resistant properties of stainless steel have made it essential in the preparation, delivery and storage of food. Stainless steel is a standard in modern restaurant kitchens since it can be easily cleaned and dried. The surface of stainless steel resists oxidation at high temperatures, making the sterilization of medical instruments possible. Its light weight and durability allowed the development of streamlining in transportation. The streamlined design of new trains, planes, and automobiles allowed for less wind resistance, and trains such as the Zephyr helped spark a new design movement. Everything from toasters to vacuum cleaners emulated the new vehicles. Stainless steel paved the way for modern technology and continues to influence our lives every day."

Stainless Steel Information