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Harry Brearley was working to prevent corrosion in rifle barrels when he accidentally invented something that would revolutionise the world of cutlery. Not an obvious route, but Brearley was an observant chap and he knew when he had something worth keeping.

Brearley had a background in steel. His father was a steel melter and young Harry had followed his father into the industry. Through years of private study and night school he became an expert in the analysis of steel and in 1908, at the age of 37, was given the opportunity to set up the Brown Firth Laboratories for research purposes. It was under this guise that Brearley was given the job of looking at the problem of rifle barrels.

The rifle problem was simple: when the gun was fired, the heat and gases generated would quickly erode away the inner barrel. Brearley was given the task of finding a steel that would not erode away, he instantly set about combining varying amounts of chromium with steel to fix the problem.

Brearley made history on 13 August 1913 when his mix 0.24% carbon and 12.8% chromium with steel created the first ever stainless steel. And although Brearley didn’t immediately realise what he had created, the resistance of the metal to acids such as vinegar and lemon juice soon pointed him in the right direction.

At that time cutlery was made from silver or carbon steel, or plated with nickel. None of which were resistant to rust, so Brearley launched his ‘rustless steel’ (later renamed as the more catchy stainless steel) on the world with great gusto.

But it was not all smooth sailing. Brearley was initially unable to interest his employers in his new steel, but once they saw how well the product was selling, Brown Firth Laboratories soon changed their mind, claiming that they owned the patent because Brearley was working for them at the time of the invention. The dispute unresolved, Brearley resigned from the company in 1915, and became works manager at another works in Sheffield where he continued to produce stainless steel.

Date: 2015-04-20; view: 1004

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