Harry Brearley – You may not know the name, but you’re certain to have heard of his invention. Like so many important and creative engineers and inventors, often the creation is better remembered than the creator.
Here at Airedale Springs we’re always seeking to laud the greatest minds in engineering and invention. So when we say ‘Harry Brearley’ there’s a strong possibility that your first thought won’t be, ‘Ah, the inventor of stainless steel.’ Let’s alter that, by looking at the man himself, how he invented stainless steel, and how it kick-started a global change.
Harry Brearley was born in Sheffield on the 18th February 1871. His first job was working at the same steelworks plant as his father, first as a bottle washer, but swiftly rising through the ranks to become general assistant in the chemical laboratory – the beginning of an illustrious career in metallurgy. While in employment, Brearley, forever eager for education, attended evening classes to further his knowledge on the techniques used for steel production. His commitment paid off, and by his early 30’s he was leading a team of laboratory researchers financed by two of Sheffield’s principal steelmakers.
It was 1912, as WWI loomed and firearms production grew, that the research lab was commissioned to investigate the erosion of rifle barrels caused by heating and discharging inside the guns. Brearley immediately set to work creating a metal which would be resistant to erosion. Since chromium was known to raise the melting point of steel, Brearley added it to his experiments. After almost a year of experimentation, adding varying percentages of chromium to the mix, he hit upon the magic number.
By mixing 12.8% chromium with 0.24% carbon, on 13th August 1913 Brearley hit gold – Or stainless steel, at least. Originally Brearley dubbed his new invention ‘rustless steel’, which had proved entirely resistant to acids contained in vinegar and lemon juice. His bosses weren’t too impressed with its potential as a use for firearms, however Brearley suggested a different use for the material – mass-production of cutlery and kitchenware. The trouble was, even Sheffield’s best cutlers thought this new rustless steel to be useless.
Brearley persevered, setting up his own company, through a proxy, and making his own batches of cutlery. He handed them out to friends, demanding that should any of the products rust, that they be returned. None ever came back. It was during this trial that one of his friends, Ernst Stuart, convinced Brearley to change the name ‘rustless steel’ to the far more marketable ‘stainless steel.’ And thus, the legend was born.
As premium spring suppliers here at Airedale Springs, we’re dedicated to uncovering the greats of invention and creativity; we’re proud to share a profession with the men and women who changed the face of engineering forever. For more information about our products, please don’t hesitate to contact us on 01535 643456 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.