Sheffield is known as the ‘Steel City’, and since the 19thcentury has been world-renowned for its production of steel. Many developments and inventions within the steel industry have been advanced in the area, although during the 1970s and 1980s, the industry began to decline as a result of international competition. The city’s nickname, however, remains.
Sheffield’s location, amongst rivers and streams fast flowing as a result of surrounding hills, makes it ideal for water-powered industries. This saw the development of factories spanning numerous industries throughout the 14thto the 17thcenturies. Sheffield’s greatest development in industry didn’t come until 1740, however; and this was an invention by Benjamin Huntsmen.
Benjamin Huntsmen, a clock maker from nearby Handsworth, invented a new production method for crucible steel, making it easier and quicker to produce than it had been traditionally. This invention coincided with the invention of the ‘Sheffield Plate’ by Thomas Boulsover, which was a way of fusing silver onto copper to produce silver plating. These two inventions boosted the steel industry hugely and are credited in the history books as having increased the population involved in the Industrial Revolution ten-fold.
Despite the historical breakthroughs, Sheffield’s link to steel didn’t end in ages past. In 1912, rustless steel (now known as stainless steel) was discovered at the Brown Firth Laboratories in the city by Harry Brearley. It was a discovery made by chance; finding that new chromium steels were resistant to the polishing and etching normally required to undertake microstructure study. Finding this and appreciating the potential for such a metal, Brearley made this vast breakthrough.
Brearley discovered the compound but left Brown Firth Labs not long after, handing over the work to his professional successor. It continued to be refined for many years, and now is considered the most common alloy of its type worldwide.
Whilst there are still steel production plants in Sheffield, international competition has slowed the industry and it is no longer considered the production home of the metal.