The Story of Stainless Steel

Unlike many other common building metals, such as bronze and iron, stainless steel is relatively new, having been invented only about a century ago. This month’s post will be dedicated to talking a little bit about the origins and history of stainless steel over the course of the 20th and 21st centuries.


The Birth of Stainless Steel

In 1913, Harry Brearley of Sheffield, UK, discovered a “rustless steel” while trying to solve a certain problem for the British army on the eve of World War I. He had been tasked with finding a solution to the erosion of the internal surfaces of gun barrels, and in the process, he invented a genuinely stainless steel by mixing steel with other alloys, principally chromium due to its ability to prevent corrosion.


As a result of his discovery, the town of Sheffield became synonymous with the innovation, and the invention of the miraculously rust-free steel was reported in newspapers around the world, including the New York Times.


After Brearley’s initial discovery, further advancements in stainless steel production followed rather quickly. In 1919, Elwood Haynes obtained a patent on the martensitic subset of stainless steel. Ten years later, William J. Kroll of Luxembourg became the first to discover precipitation-hardening stainless steel, and by 1930, duplex stainless steel was being produced in Sweden at the Avesta Ironworks.


Stainless Steel Today


Over the past century, roughly 100 different grades of stainless steel have been invented and made commercially available. These grades all fall under four primary family groups, namely, martenistic, austentic, ferritic, and duplex. Martensitic and ferritic stainless steels are magnetic, in contrast to austenitic stainless steels which are non-magnetic. These different grades have varying quantities of other alloying metals such as copper, nickel, and titanium added to them. Nitrogen and carbon are also regularly added to enhance the general characteristics of stainless steel.


Today, stainless steel is one of the most commonly used metals in the world and is utilized for everything from skyscrapers to kitchen cutlery.


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