The father of Stainless Steel

Steelworker’s son Harry Brearley was on a mission – to create a metal that could resist heat.

In 1912, a small arms manufacturer asked Brearley’s company to find a material for rifle barrels that would not be eroded by high temperatures. Luckily he was a metallurgy obsessive.


After leaving school aged 12 to become a laboratory bottle washer at the Sheffield steelworks where his father worked, he went to night classes to learn his trade.  


At the time cutlery was made from silver or plated with nickel and had to be polished. Sharp knives were made from carbon steel and would rust. 


Brearley found his new alloy was not just rust- and heat-resistant but also repelled household acids such as vinegar and lemon juice.  


He immediately realised the implications for the cutlery industry. After months of experiments adding chromium to steel in August 1913 he created a new alloy, which he called Rustless Steel.


An old school friend who had been helping him at Brown Firth Research lab suggested he call it Stainless Steel 


The discovery was to revolutionise the metallurgy industry and become a fixture of the modern world.


It was quickly adopted by the British military for use in guns. Similar alloys were developed in Germany and the US, but Brearley is regarded as the father of stainless steel.


After falling out with his employers over patent rights, he became a director of another steel firm. He died in 1948 aged 77.  


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