Stainless Steel 101: A Brief History

stainless steel products of different shapes and sizes

More often than not, we take stainless steel for granted. It’s present in many of the products we use in our day-to-day lives, and yet it is so nondescript and unseen that most of us are not even aware that it’s there when we are using it. In addition, even those who do utilize it regularly may not know when stainless steel was invented or even the history behind its creation and development.

If you regularly use products made with stainless steel and want to learn more, here’s a brief history of stainless steel, why it is so important to our daily lives, and the many applications that have been found for it.

What Is Stainless Steel?

First, let’s begin by reviewing what stainless steel actually is and what it’s made with. Stainless steel is an alloy made with iron and chromium. To be considered stainless steel, it must contain at least 10.5 percent chromium, which keeps the iron from rusting and protects the other components, including copper, nickel, titanium, and aluminum, from corrosion. The exact composition can change depending on what the stainless steel is being made for.

The chromium also makes stainless steel very heat resistant, allowing it to be used in high-temperature environments where other metals may not fare as well. Nitrogen is added in some compositions, helping it combat corrosion even further and improve the steel’s mechanical strength. Not to mention, stainless steel is recyclable and environmentally neutral, making it a sustainable material for those who are eco-conscious — in fact, it’s estimated that around 85% of stainless steel has been recycled. Plus, it’s aesthetically pleasing to look at and easy to maintain, making it an excellent choice in countless circumstances.

The History of Stainless Steel

So, when was stainless steel invented? Let’s start by going back to the late 1700s when chromium was first shown to have protective properties. By the time 1821 rolled around, “chromium steel” was recognized for its oxidation and corrosion resistance. A US patent for stainless steel was issued in 1869, and the development of the alloy continued well beyond the 1800s.

Some could say the history of stainless steel began in 1913 when English metallurgist Harry Brearley first made ‘rustless steel’ by adding chromium to molten iron. His original goal was to find a way to prevent the gun barrels used by his country’s military from eroding, and he wound up creating something that would become used in far more applications than just warfare. Sheffield, the town Brearley lived in, was England’s center of cutlery manufacturing, and the forks and spoons there would soon be made with his stainless steel — which did a much better job at resisting the acids in foods.

Of course, there were many others who were a part of the history of stainless steel. When Brearley went to get a patent for it across the Atlantic in the United States, he discovered that someone else — a man named Elwood Haynes — already had a patent for it. Brearley and Haynes decided to team up and create the American Stainless Steel Corporation, which was one of the first businesses in the USA to manufacture a huge total tonnage of the product. By 1929, over 25,000 tons of stainless steel were manufactured in the United States and sold annually — and it would only become more used around the world since then.

Major metallurgy developments in the decades since have resulted in processes that allow the removal of carbon and sulfur from the steel, continuous casting, and hot and cold strip rolling. Over the last 100 years, dozens of grades of stainless steel have been discovered and used for commercial purposes.

Why Stainless Steel Is Popular

The most significant reason stainless steel is so popular and prevalent is that it resists corrosion and staining while remaining incredibly strong. Throughout the history of stainless steel, it’s found it’s been integrated into a wide array of products across many different industries — chances are that you’ve used or been around stainless steel products numerous times without realizing it. To give a sense of how diverse its applications are, here are just a few uses for stainless steel:

  • Cookware and cutlery
  • Kitchen sinks
  • Food processing equipment
  • Surgical instruments and implants
  • Mission-critical equipment parts in airplanes, automobiles, and major appliances
  • Rail cars
  • Bridges
  • Construction materials
  • Industrial equipment
  • Temporary crowns for dentistry
  • Storage tanks, including chemical storage tanks
  • Various machinery
  • And much more

This is just a short list of the many different applications of stainless steel — there are many other products out there that contain it. No matter what application it’s used in, you can always trust the durability of stainless steel products to stave off corrosion and last for years to come.

For High-Quality Stainless Steel Products, Call Us Today

Stainless steel is a powerful workhorse that does not demand much attention but performs reliably — even when used daily. If you are looking for a stainless steel wire supplier in OH, and the surrounding states, contact the experts at Wickwire Warehouse Inc. today. We offer a variety of high-quality products for your home or business, including annealed black wire, bale ties, and much more. For further information on our products and to place an order, feel free to give us a call.