The History of Stainless Steel

They say necessity is the mother of invention, and the case couldn’t be truer regarding the story of stainless steel. In an attempt to create a metal for the British Army which could be used for gun barrels, but wouldn’t corrode, Harry Brearley is credited for developing and industrializing stainless steel production.

Since then, this amazing material has found use in medical, scientific, construction, and food service applications, just to name a few. What else do you know about stainless? 

What Is Stainless Steel?

Although used in countless modern applications, many may still be wondering how stainless is different from traditional steel. When iron ore is smelted to make regular steel, chromium can be added to the mixture. Mixing in approximately 13% chromium will create stainless steel, although newer mixtures and additives can make different stainless steel types.  

Stainless Steel Types

Five types of stainless steel are consistently manufactured. 

Austenitic – This makes up the majority of stainless steel produced, about two-thirds of total production. The microstructuring is a face-centered cubic crystal structure and uses varying amounts of chromium, manganese, and nickel. 

Ferritic – Ferritic structuring is a body-centered cubic structure and is between 10.5%-27% chromium, with little to no nickel. 

Martensitic – Also a body-centered cubic crystal structure, this stainless is magnetic and not quite as corrosion-resistant as the first two, due to less chromium. 

Duplex – A mixed microstructuring of austenitic and ferritic crystals, these steels also have higher molybdenum and chromium contents. They are highly corrosion-resistant and are often used in applications involving water. 

Precipitation Hardening – Referring more to the process of hardening the stainless, this category offers high strength, and corrosion resistance equivalent to that of austenitic stainless. 

How Long Has Stainless Steel Been Around?

Martensitic stainless steel was first produced by Brearley and the Brown-Firth research lab in 1913. But, other inventors, scientists, and discoverers were following similar paths to its discovery as far back as the mid-1800s. 

This revolutionary metal had the strength and resilience of traditional steel, with the added corrosive protection of the chromium. This allowed it to be used in dozens of new applications, across industry boundaries.  

Common Uses

As mentioned, stainless steel can be used in a wide variety of applications and across a large number of industries. Some of the more popular uses include:


Knives, utensils, and cookware are all popular stainless applications. The strength and durability of stainless steel in the kitchen is quite desirable. Also, sinks, countertops, and equipment racks and shelves are popular uses of stainless. 

Construction and Building

Bridges, roofs, support structures, and fastening materials are just a few of the ways stainless steel can be used in these industries. 

Surgical and Medical

Scalpels can be sharpened to precise levels using stainless, and other instruments are able to be sterilized and reused countless times due to their durability and strength. 

As a material, stainless steel is durable, can be used across various applications, and is transformative for many industries.