Published On: Thu, Jul 28th, 2016

Who Really Invented Stainless Steel?

Have you ever wondered who invented stainless steel? If you were to ask Google, you would probably find the majority of hits referring to Harry Brearley, a British metallurgist who tried to make a gun barrel metal that was erosion resistant. In 1913, he created a type of chromium steel and this was pretty much rust free. He referred to it as ‘rustless metal’, but a local cutlery maker said that ‘stainless steel’ would be a better name, to which Brearley agreed.

 public domain pic from May 4 1916

public domain pic from May 4 1916

Pleased with his work, he applied for a U.S. Patent in 1915, only to find that Elwood Haynes had already beaten him to it. Most people continue to believe that Brearley really was the first to come up with stainless steel, the reality is that Haynes also did something of his own. Brearley received funding from two of the biggest steel manufacturers in Britain to conduct his research, while Haynes worked on his own in America. As such, neither of them knew about the other. Rather, they just happened to both discover, at around the same time, that adding chromium was the ticket to making something stainless.

Clearly, there will probably never be an agreement about who truly invented it. However, putting a little bit of a spotlight on Haynes can be interesting, not in the least because it was his invention of stainless steel that helped the development of the automobile. Haynes started to think about motorized transportation back in 1889, when he was working on a natural gas pipeline. He was frustrated about having to regularly switch horses when he would travel between towns, as they weren’t able to cover the distance.

It took him five years, but he did manage to create the second vehicle in the country that was gas engine powered. In 1895, Haynes-Apperson was formed, and this was the first commercial car manufacturer in the world. Today, we still read the Haynes manual for any vehicle we purchase, in fact.

After Haynes built his car, he wanted to get a metal that would resist rust to make the car more durable. He opted for aluminum, however, because it was lightweight and made the engine less noisy. However, he was gripped by the rust resistant idea, so he kept working until he created the Stellites metal, which was high resistant to corrosion. He came up with these alloys when trying to find the best one for his spark plugs. Stellites are still used today because they are so tough and hard.

Between 1911 and 1912, Haynes invented his version of stainless steel. He found that the open market did not yet have a stainless steel variety, meaning he applied for patent in 1912. Interestingly, he was denied has patent. When he enough information to apply again, Brearley had discovered his version and had received a wealth of international attention.

Brearley and Haynes decided not to go to court. Rather, they decided to work together and they formed the American Stainless Steel Company. This was a hugely lucrative partnership, with both men making millions until the expiration of the patent in 1930. By then, however, some 35 companies were manufacturing under their patent. A true success story, in other words!

Guest Author: Lolita Di

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  1. Peter Kaumanns says:

    Just to remind: Benno Strauss of Krupp Germany invented the chromium nickel type of stainless steel (today “300 series”) in 1912, patented in same year…

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