Stainless steel research guide

In 1913 Harry Brearley of Sheffield developed what is widely regarded as the first ‘rustless’ or stainless steel - a product that revolutionised the metallurgy industry and became a major component of the modern world.

In the troubled years immediately before World War One, arms manufacturing increased significantly in the UK, but practical problems were encountered due to erosion (excessive wear) of the internal surfaces of gun barrels. Harry Brearley began to research new steels which could be more resistant to erosion caused by high temperature use. He examined the addition of chromium to steel, which was to lead to the discovery of stainless steel.

Brearley was asked to lead a joint project between two major Sheffield steel suppliers - Thomas Firth and Sons and John Brown and Company.

Sheffield was a major producer of steel armaments in the 1800s and into the 20th century, but it was cutlery production that was the first real and practical beneficiary of the first ‘rustless’ steel.

Harry Brearley was certainly the pioneer of stainless steel but after he left Brown Firth Research, his successor Dr. W.H. Hatfield went on to develop a stainless steel which even today is probably the widest used alloy of this type. It is referred to as “18/8”. This steel also includes nickel.

The Firth-Brearley Stainless Steel Syndicate was established in 1917 by Harry Brearley and Thomas Firth & Sons Limited. It was created to licence the rights to export stainless steel to the United States, Canada, Italy, France and Japan.

Firth-Vickers Stainless Steels Limited was incorporated in October 1934. The new company was formed to acquire the stainless steel interests of Thomas Firth and John Brown Limited and the English Steel Corporation (ESC) who would jointly own the company. Production was centred on Firth's Tinsley Works in Weedon Street, with Firth-Brown also occupying the empty Cyclops Works in Savile Street, Sheffield, where new rolling mills and heat-treatment plant were erected.

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