Brearley, Harry

SUBJECT AREA: Metallurgy
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b. 18 February 1871 Sheffield, England
d. 14 July 1948 Torquay, Devon, England
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English inventor of stainless steel.
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Brearley was born in poor circumstances. He received little formal education and was nurtured rather in and around the works of Thomas Firth \& Sons, where his father worked in the crucible steel-melting shop. One of his first jobs was to help in their chemical laboratory where the chief chemist, James Taylor, encouraged him and helped him fit himself for a career as a steelworks chemist.
In 1901 Brearley left Firth's to set up a laboratory at Kayser Ellison \& Co., but he returned to Firth's in 1904, when he was appointed Chief Chemist at their Riga works, and Works Manager the following year. In 1907 he returned to Sheffield to design and equip a research laboratory to serve both Firth's and John Brown \& Co. It was during his time as head of this laboratory that he made his celebrated discovery. In 1913, while seeking improved steels for rifle barrels, he used one containing 12.68 per cent chromium and 0.24 per cent carbon, in the hope that it would resist fouling and erosion. He tried to etch a specimen for microscopic examination but failed, from which he concluded that it would resist corrosion by, for example, the acids encountered in foods and cooking. The first knives made of this new steel were unsatisfactory and the 1914–18 war interrupted further research. But eventually the problems were overcome and Brearley's discovery led to a range of stainless steels with various compositions for domestic, medical and industrial uses, including the well-known "18–8" steel, with 18 per cent chromium and 8 per cent nickel.
In 1915 Brearley left the laboratory to become Works Manager, then Technical Director, at Brown Bayley's steelworks until his retirement in 1925.
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Principal Honours and Distinctions
Iron and Steel Institute Bessemer Gold Medal 1920.
Bibliography
Brearley wrote several books, including: 1915 (?), with F.Ibbotson, The Analysis of Steelworks Materials, London.
The Heat Treatment of Tool Steels. Ingots and Ingot Moulds.
Later books include autobiographical details: 1946, Talks on Steelmaking, American Society for Metals.
1941, Knotted String: Autobiography of a Steelmaker, London: Longmans, Green.
Further Reading
Obituary, 1948, Journal of the Iron and Steel Institute : 428–9.
LRD

Biographical history of technology. - Taylor & Francis e-Librar. . 2005.

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