Harry Brearley

Sheffield born metallurgist, and developer of stainless steel

Sheffield Cultural Heritage


Was a Sheffield born metallurgist, 1871- 1948. As a boy he left school early to work in his fathers steelworks, and by his 30’s was a reputable metallurgist, quick to find solutions to practical issues in factories. By 1913 he had his own laboratory at Kayser Ellisons, Around that time he added chromium to molten iron- the result was something that would not rust, what we now call stainless steel. Steelworkers during that time knew that metallurgy was an uphill battle against rusting, which eroded weaponry by rusting gun barrels, and Brearley was hired to find a way to combat that during the tense period right before the First World War. He wrote about his discovery of the then-named “rustless steel” in a book called “The Story of Ironie”, which has now been lost to time. Some surviving accounts say that he tested the metal by applying nitric acid, lemon juice and vinegar to the steel. They maintained their steely affect throughout.
Brearly, surprisingly, had no luck in striking up partnerships with his bosses, and eschewed his employment for a different local cutler, R.F Mosly, to produce his steel with. The steel was indeed stainless but the alloy was tough to apply to knife blades- an old friend from school, Ernest Stuart, helped him figure this out very quickly. Stuart was also the one who convinced Brearley to name it “stainless steel” as well. Brearly was awarded the Iron and Steel Institutes Bessemer Gold Medal in 1920, and whilst further investigations into stainless steel were paused during World War 1, efforts were renewed in the 1920’s. Brearly had left his prior laboratories due to disagreements over patent rights, but with the help of Dr W.H Hatfield, found the most effective balance of stainless steel which is still in use today; known as the 18/8, which adds nickel to the process.

Sheffield Cultural Heritage

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