Unraveling the Mysterious History of Stainless Steel

Believe it or not, stainless steel has only been around for just over 100 years. Compare this with iron, which has been around for over a thousand years. Hard to imagine, right? In fact, the history of stainless steel is still shrouded in ambiguity to this day. Nevertheless, stainless steel remains of the most used metals in the manufacturing industry. Let’s try to jump into the origins.

In this article, we will go over the surprising history of stainless steel, divulge some of the great milestones that the versatile metal has met & talk a bit about modern stainless steel. Let’s begin the lesson.

The Invention of “Rustless Metal”

The credited inventor of stainless steel is renowned English metallurgist Harry Brearley. His discovery of stainless steel was actually by pure accident. He was initially trying to solve the problem of erosion of the internal surfaces of gun barrels for the British army before World War 1. How did he do it?

On August 13th, 1913, after much trial & error, Brearley decided to add exactly 12.8% chromium with 0.24% carbon to the molten iron to produce what he called “rustless steel.” The name came to fruition after Brearley performed several chemical experiments to test corrosion. He soon found out the metal was highly resistant to corrosion & thus stainless steel came alive. The discovery was a massive breakthrough & would pave the way for the metal.

Soon after, he envisioned mass production of food related applications such as cutlery & processing equipment. Brearley expanded his experiments to incorporate food acids (namely vinegar) onto the metal – needless to say, the results were perfect. This is the birth of stainless steel food service equipment.

Stainless Steel Milestones

After the discovery, stainless steel began to see heavy development & use over the next 100 years. Here are some interesting milestones for stainless steel:

  • In 1925, a stainless steel tank was used to store nitric acid, solidifying the metal’s unique resistance to corrosion.
  • In 1926, a big advancement in the medical field happened as the first surgical implants made of stainless steel were put into use.
  • In the 1930s, transportation took step forward as the first stainless steel train was built in the United States.
  • In 1931, the first aircraft made of stainless steel was manufactured.
  • By 1935, stainless steel kitchen sinks were commonplace in most homes.
  • In 1954, the film & TV industry jumped forward with the release of the first stainless steel underwater TV camera.
  • In a manufacturing milestone, global production of stainless steel reached 31 million metric ton in 2010.

Complementary to the above, there have been over 100 grades of stainless steel discovered & used. Each grade has its own quantities of nickel, carbon, titanium that make it stand out from the next.

Stainless Steel…TODAY

Fast forward to 2024 & stainless steel is still going strong. Since its discovery, the uses of stainless steel have been expanded dramatically in the medical & architectural industries. In the food service industry, it remains the gold standard for strength, hygiene & aesthetics. No other metal comes close to the popularity & importance of stainless steel in a food service environment.

With the recent trend of “going green” & reducing emissions, stainless steel is leading the charge thanks to it 100% recyclability. Stainless steel doesn’t release toxic elements into the air unlike carbon steel.

..What About the Future?

Stainless steel will only evolve from here, so what’s on the horizon?

New coatings are in development to improve the anti-bacterial properties of stainless steel, which would increase its hygienic benefits even further. PVD coatings are also being researched to add increased durability.

There is always room to increase sustainability as well. New recycling methods & focus on sustainability will lead to more recycled stainless steel & less carbon emissions as a result.

IMC/Teddy has been working with stainless steel for well over 60 years for food service applications. IMC lives & breathes stainless steel & our knowledge of the metal is vast. Our products are proudly made in the United States of America using Type 304 stainless steel. Type 304 Series stainless steel is proven to be the most useful material in the food service industry due to its strength, durability, & corrosion resistance. For a closer look at our mission, click here.

*Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of IMC/Teddy. Our content is intended to be used and must be used for informational purposes only. Please contact IMC/Teddy directly if you would like to feature this post on your webpage. Thank you.

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