Uses of Stainless Steel Through The Ages

Stainless steel is one of the most widely used materials in existence today. Its combination of strength, durability and corrosion resistance makes it hard to beat in a wide variety of applications. Yet this hasn’t always been the case. Originally known as “rustless steel” stainless steel wasn’t an instant hit. In 1913, when Harry Brearley, the metallurgist widely credited with discovering stainless steel, introduced cutlery made from this new material, people were underwhelmed. He rapidly became known as the inventor of “the knives that would not cut.”

Fortunately, things soon took a turn for the better!

We thought it would be interesting to look at a rough timeline of how stainless steel has come to be such a useful and influential part of our lives:

1900 – 1920

  • The art deco period saw a rise in prominence of stainless steel in the construction industry.
  • Martensitic stainless steel (containing one percent chromium and .35% carbon) was used for cutlery and munitions.
  • Austenitic stainless steel sheets (containing a combination of chromium, nickel, iron and manganese) were commonly used in architecture and construction.
  • Ferritic stainless steel (low carbon, iron-chromium alloy) was commonly used for turbine blades and electric light bulb filaments.

1920 – 1940

  • Precipitation-hardening stainless steel was introduced, and the uses for the metal exploded – stoves, cutlery, public lobbies, kitchens, railings, doors, furniture, equipment, signage and exterior ornaments, among others.
  • Used for plaques, sculptures and trims, and made famous by the respective architects of the Empire State and Chrysler buildings.
  • First used in the automotive industry by the Ford Motor Company.

1940 – 1960

  • Used in curtain wall construction. (Curtain walls are the non-structural walls of a building, and as such can be made of a lightweight material, such as stainless steel).
  • Used extensively in the housing market for roofing, gutters, sheathing and flashing.
  • Before and during WWII, emphasis shifted from making new grades of stainless steel to finding cheaper ways to mass produce it. After the war, however, the advent of jet aircraft meant new grades, with better strength-to-weight ratios, were required. This helped lead to the development of additional precipitation hardening grades, such as 17:4 PH.

1970s – Today

The 1970s onwards saw the development of duplex stainless steel, which offers a higher strength and greater corrosion resistance than conventional grades. The high strength of this metal makes it unsuitable, however, for any application requiring a high degree of formability or machinability.

Steelmor has been delivering quality products to the stainless steel industry for over 40 years. We are proud of our levels of service and dedication, and would love to show you what we can do for you and your next project. Contact us today and let’s chat.