Stainless steel came into being in the early 20th Century because of an urgent need for better materials. Chemical processing, oil refining, and other new manufacturing activities of the time were quickly surpassing the performance barriers imposed by conventional engineering materials.
English metallurgist, Harry Brearley, is considered to be the creator of stainless steel. In June of 1912, while searching for an improved alloy to protect cannon bores, Brearley found that by adding chromium to low carbon steel, the steel became stain resistant. Further research showed that the protection mechanism that inhibited this rust was the formation of a microscopically-tight, self-healing, protective-oxide film on the surface of the metal.
This film has proven resistant to corrosives such as water, air, foods, and alkalis. The oxide is so thin and transparent that it escapes detection by the unaided eye. When scratched, nicked, or otherwise penetrated, a fresh film forms almost instantly on the exposed portion of the metal.
Stainless steel is defined today as a steel alloy containing
at least 10% chromium, plus other elements — especially nickel.
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