The Man Who Invented stainless steel

Chairman of the Torbay Civic Society, Ian Handford, talked via zoom to members of Bishopsteignton Probus Club about Harry Brearley, who invented stainless steel. He was born in Sheffield in 1871, where he was one of eight siblings in a poor family. He left school, aged twelve, to work as a cellar boy at Thomas Firth and Sons Steelworks where his father worked.

Harry Brearley was quickly promoted to a general assistant and then a laboratory assistant with the same company. He was encouraged to read about steel and study at evening classes. At the age of thirty, he moved to a different laboratory, where he became general manager. By that time, he had read a lot about the problems caused by rust in cast iron steel and he experimented by adding chromium to steel in order to create rustless steel. This had military applications by reducing the rust that formed inside rifle barrels. He also saw potential for this kind of steel in cutlery and containers used in food preparation. As part of his experimental work, he made cutlery which he gave to people to test the steel’s effectiveness. All tests were successful, with no rust even when used with acid foods, such as vinegar and lemon juice.

Rustless steel soon took on the name stainless steel. Later, Harry and his wife settled in Livermead, Torquay, where in 2018, the Torbay Civic Society unveiled a plaque in his memory.

Photo of Speaker, Ian Handford.

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