The Centenary of Stainless Steel

9 Oct 2013

This is a joint meeting with the Newcomen Society.


Presented by Dr David Dulieu 

Within 25 years of the discovery of elemental chromium, at the end of the 18th Century, it was being considered as a potential addition to improve the corrosion resistance of iron and steel. Faraday and Stodart at the Royal Institution in London were the first to investigate iron-chromium alloys produced specifically for improved corrosion resistance. Like many workers following, they failed because of the twin problems of difficulty in adding high enough levels of chromium and the carbon contamination associated with the addition methods.

By 1870 chromium alloy steels were being made in Sheffield as part of the development of steels for ordnance and cutting tools. The availability of electric furnaces at the end of the 19th Century made possible the production of higher purity ferroalloys and eased the problems in melting high chromium steels. In 1913 Brearley in Sheffield was able to identify the conditions need to produce a martensitic stainless steel. Rapidly accepted for cutlery, the use of the new material was inhibited by the advent of the First World War. In the post war period two new families of stainless steels; the ferritic ‘stainless irons’ and the austenitic chromium-nickel steels, were introduced. The ranges of domestic and industrial applications and of stainless, corrosion and heat resisting high chromium steel compositions both expanded rapidly.

This first ‘Golden Age’ of alloy development saw many of the steels currently in use first emerge and find application. By the mid- 1920’s, requirements for stainless steels in a wide range of product forms were outgrowing the small scale of operations inherited from the tool steel sector. One of the major challenges to come was to reduce the cost of production, to further expand demand.

5:45 to 7:45 pm 

Venue and booking

Event Location: 
The Director's Suite
The Science Museum
United Kingdom
Contact details: 

Patrick Pryce and Dr Fred Star

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