Chance find put the steel into Sheffield

Stainless Steel exhibition at Kelham Island Museum'Karen Middlemast gives the HMS Sheffield bell a final polish
Stainless Steel exhibition at Kelham Island Museum'Karen Middlemast gives the HMS Sheffield bell a final polish
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THE ‘Eureka’ moment a Sheffield man discovered stainless steel is being brought to life at a new exhibition celebrating the milestone’s centenary.

Perfectly preserved lab reports from when Harry Brearley accidentally found ‘rustless’ steel in 1913 form part of the new display at the city’s Kelham Island Museum.

The analyst was looking into the erosion of rifle barrels when he experimented by adding chromium to steel mix – and found it did not tarnish, even when left outside.

His discovery has gone on to transform all walks of life, from making cutlery easier to clean to life-saving surgical instruments.

Karen Middlemast, curator of Rustless: The Harry Brearley Story, said: “The lab reports that document the discovery of stainless steel capture the Eureka moment when Brearley was looking at rifle erosion and thought ‘I’m just going to try this’.

“You can see him getting more and more excited, saying this could be used for all kinds of things.

“I think he saw the lightbulb go on.

“If you think about it now, stainless steel has saved people’s lives because it is so hygienic for surgical instruments – it’s irreplaceable.”

Brearley, who was born on Spital Hill, followed his father and brother into work at steel furnaces at the age of 12, but only for a few months as new age regulations came in.

He was fascinated by the nearby Little Mesters and inspired by a chemist while working as a bottle washer at Thomas Firth & Sons.

The exhibition will feature one of the first ever stainless steel knives produced and a bell from the first HMS Sheffield which was scrapped in 1967. A room at the museum has been named in Brearley’s honour.

Visitors can also donate unwanted stainless steel cutlery for a new sculpture.

Karen added: “It’s a chance to be part of stainless steel history. I think it will be a lasting legacy.”

Rustless launches on Monday, together with The Stay Bright–Keep Bright exhibition. The second display highlights the significance of Brearley’s discovery.