Today, alloy steels have a wide range of industrial uses, from building materials to ASME flanges to forged steel rings. The development of alloy steel was key to the American Technological Revolution and many advancements worldwide, from the production of the automobile to the construction of the Chrysler Building.
The story of alloy steel begins in 1865, when American metallurgist Julius Baur created the first alloy steel by mixing steel with chromium. Chrome Steel Company in Brooklyn began producing chromium steel. The company never became a very profitable enterprise, but it did inspire Frenchman Henri-Ami Brustlein to perform his own experiments with steel and chromium. He soon refined the process for creating chromium alloy steel, transforming it into a viable product. He used his new process to produce chromium steel tools, armor plate, and cannon shells, and he dominated the alloy steel market for over 15 years.
The next major advancement in alloy steel was the invention of nickel steel in the 1880s. Englishman James Riley worked with a group of French metallurgists for an unknown number of years and began producing nickel steel in 1889. The production of nickel steel flourished in the turn-of-the-century United States, where it was used for bicycle chains and tubing and large structures such as New York City’s Manhattan and Queensboro Bridges. In fact, around 3,000 tons of alloy steel were produced in the U.S. in 1900.
But the largest boon to alloy steel was the rising popularity of the automobile. Nickel-chromium steel was especially valued for its strength and durability. In 1910, the Association of Licensed Automobile Manufacturers published specifications for the use of steel in automobiles. They specifically recommended one type of nickel steel, two types of nickel-chromium steels, and three carbon steels. The use of alloy steel only grew with the outbreak of World War I and the need for strong weapons and automobiles. Alloy steels have since become a staple for modern products such as large diameter flanges and forged nozzles.
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