Harry Brearley and Stainless Steel

During 2013, Sheffield and surrounding areas celebrated the centenary of the work of Harry Brearley in the use of stainless steel.

The first stainless steel knife blade made by Harry Brearley

The first stainless steel knife blade
made by Harry Brearley -
stuck into an old file handle

Pre 1913

There had been work on the addition of chromium to steel for at least 100 years before Harry Brearley did his work.  The rust resistance of chromium was known but the proportions of chromium and carbon in the steel alloy, along with appropriate heat treatment, were crucial to the production of a useful stainless metal.

Brearley’s research

There was tension between Brearley and his employers, and some of his work was done with the aid of outside firms – Vanadium Steel and RF Mosely.  His development of a chromium/steel alloy led him to speculate on the value of the metal in the cutlery industry, but met with resistance.  His attempts to produce knife blades depended on the correct heat treatment of the metal – solved by the work of Ernest Stuart of RF Mosley. 

Promotion of the new steel

The Firth-Brearley Steel Syndicate was established to control the manufacture through patents.  By the mid 1920s, the steel was commonly in use for cutlery and other engineering processes, often marked with the registered mark of ‘Firth Brearley Stainless’ or ‘Firth Stainless’.  Further development of stainless steel – the ‘18/8’ steel (percentage content of chromium and nickel) – was the result of work by WH Hatfield at Firth’s.

Records of the development of Stainless Steel

Records relating to Brearley and Firth’s work are held at Kelham Island Industrial Museum, Sheffield Archives and the Cutlers’ Company.  The declaration made by Brearley in 1931 is lodged with the Cutlers’ Company and held at the Cutlers’ Hall.


100 Years of Stainless Steel Book

As part of the centenary celebrations a special edition book has been commissioned by Marketing Sheffield and produced by Sheffield Newspapers.

An extraordinary discovery by a remarkable man changed the face of the modern world. Harry Brearley grew up in a poverty stricken family yet the stainless steel he discovered has left Sheffield's fingerprint on some of the world's most iconic buildings and inventions.

The 100 years of Stainless Steel book covers the journey from Brearley's childhood to the discovery and huge impact it still has today. Through an impressive collection of photographs it tells the story from inside the steelworks, how it shaped the city and how it continues to play a major role in 2013.

Copies are still available at the Cutlers' Hall and possibly at other heritage and museum venues around the City




City Centre Trail - Stainless Steel Public Art

. Sheffield city centre has a number of fine public artworks, many made from stainless steel.  This downloadable trail leaflet, produced as part of the celebration of 100 years of stainless steel in the city, will guide you round the centre to see 12 remarkable pieces, taking about an hour and a half.  The artworks show a variety of forms and functions, together with an increasing amount of well-designed street furniture in stainless steel.  Image of a detail from  'Elements' by Brian Asquith

Sheffield stainless steel trail