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Stainless steel can be found everywhere, from the cutlery in our kitchens to almost every sector of the manufacturing industry. In fact when you consider its myriad uses its hard to imagine life without it, so it comes as a surprise to discover that it was only invented a little over one hundred years ago.
Celebrating its centenary in 2013, the invention of true stainless steel is widely attributed to Harry Brearley of Sheffield, UK. However, there are also many rival claims from all over the world to Brearley’s title, and in the preceding years, there were many previous attempts to create stainless steel, some of which came very close indeed.

As far back as 1820, scientists Stoddard and Farraday discovered iron-chromium alloys to be more resistant to damage caused by acids, and in 1872 Woods and Clarke patented an alloy which contained 30 – 35% Chromium and 2% Tungsten. Later, in 1875 French scientist Brustlein made a major breakthrough with the discovery that to successfully make stainless steel, the carbon content should be below 0.15%. Some would argue that these discoveries marked the beginning of the development of stainless steel. A process involving efforts by many scientists that would continue for twenty years until the next major breakthrough.

In 1895, Hans Goldschmidt invented an aluminothermic reduction process that allowed carbon-free chromium to be produced and opened the door for the next stage in the development of stainless steel. French scientist Leon Guillet also played a part, although possibly unknowingly as he worked on studies analysing iron, nickel and chrome alloys analysing their chemical composition but failing to note the potential for corrosion resistance. By 1909 work was going on on both sides of the channel, with Giesen in England and Portevin in France both studying what would now be regarded as 430 stainless steel.

In 1911, the final major pre Harry Brearley breakthrough was made when German scientists Monnartz and Borchers discovered that there was a connection between chromium content and corrosion resistance.

A year after this discovery, in 1912 Harry Brearley was given the task of finding an erosion resistant steel by a firearms manufacturer. During this process he experimented with different alloys, eventually discovering that some had not rusted to the extent of their counterparts. Brearly later went into business with an old school friend, Ernest Stuart who coined the name “stainless steel” after testing the material with a vinegar solution.

But what of the other contenders to the title? These include German Company the Krupp Iron Works who in 1908 produced a chrome and nickel steel hull for a yacht named The Half Moon. In the USA the title was claimed by Elwood Haynes who claimed he discovered a rustproof razor in 1911 and two scientists Becket and Dantzen who worked with ferritic stainless steels between 1911 and 1914.

Over the following 100 years, approximately 100 grades of stainless steel went on to be discovered.

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