Have you ever walked past a stove and admired its gleaming surface or used a knife to cut through tough meat and felt the sharpness of the blade? If so, then you’ve encountered stainless steel.
Understanding the history of how this incredible metal came to be can help us appreciate all the ways it makes our lives better. Let’s look at the history of stainless steel in the United States.
The Introduction of Stainless Steel
We can trace the origin of stainless steel to Sheffield, England, in 1913, developed by Harry Brearley and his team at the Brown Firth research laboratories. The first US patent for stainless steel would follow a few years later.
Stainless steel is an alloy of iron, chromium, and other metals, and you can find it in everything from kitchen appliances to surgical instruments. It is highly corrosion-resistant and has a wide range of commercial and industrial applications.
Stainless Steel in the United States
The early history of stainless steel in the United States links to the development of the nickel industry. In 1916, the American chemist Elwood Haynes received a patent for an austenitic alloy called “stainless steel.” This early stainless steel contained between 16 and 26 percent chromium and up to 0.15 percent carbon.
In the years following World War I, the nickel industry in the United States expanded rapidly. Nickel was essential for the production of stainless steel and other alloys. The US Geological Survey estimates that, in 2019, the United States produced about 81,000 metric tons of nickel.
The first US stainless steel production plant was built in 1923 by the American Nickel Company in Long Island City, New York. The plant produced 22 metric tons of stainless steel in its first year. By 1939, the company had expanded its operations to include a plant in Port Newark, New Jersey, which produced 66 metric tons of stainless steel.
During World War II, the demand for stainless steel increased dramatically. The war effort required large quantities of metal for military equipment and supplies. After the war, the stainless steel industry continued to grow.
Stainless Steel Today
Today, the United States is one of the world’s largest stainless steel producers. In 2019, the US Geological Survey estimated that the United States produced 2.5 million metric tons of stainless steel.
The US stainless steel industry is highly concentrated. The top 10 companies account for about 75 percent of the different types of stainless steel production. The largest producer is AK Steel Corporation, which operates in Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana.
The stainless steel industry in the United States is also highly innovative. American companies are constantly developing new grades and types of stainless steel to meet the ever-changing needs of consumers and industries.
The next time you see a shiny sink or a sharp knife, remember the history of stainless steel and how it has improved our lives. You never know; the next significant stainless steel innovation may be just around the corner.