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Harry Brearley: The man who discovered stainless steel

Black and white upper profile of metallurgist Harry Brearley.
Harry Brearley © Picture Sheffield, Sheffield Libraries

Black and white photograph of streets and houses in Burngreave.
A street scene from Pitsmoor. This was the sort of environment that Harry Brearley grew up in. © Picture Sheffield, Sheffield Libraries

Harry Brearley made his name as a metallurgist when he discovered stainless steel in 1913. He was born in 1871 into a poor family who lived in one room at the back of Spital Street. His father was a steel worker at Thomas Firth & Sons and his mother took in washing to support a family of nine children. Harry went to Woodside Board School but left to begin working as a cellar lad at the age of twelve. A couple of years later he started as a bottle washer in the chemical laboratory at Firth's. He began to study metallurgy and learnt so quickly that he was able to set a up a new laboratory at Kayser Ellison's. In 1913, whilst working at Firth Brown's research laboratory, he made the discovery that adding chromium to molten iron produced a metal that did not rust. This gave new life to the steel industry in Sheffield. In retirement he wrote his autobiography, 'Knotted string' and other technical books. He nicknamed himself the 'sometime street arab' of Sheffield.