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"I don't know why I write science fiction. The voices in my head told me to!"
- Charles Stross

Steelonium  
  A remarkable kind of steel that did not rust or corrode.  

This is a very early reference in fiction to what is now called stainless steel.

"You will notice that there are no cracks or fissures. Steelonium won't rust and is ten times as strong as steel. We now make our streets by putting down large slabs of the metal, six inches thick."
From Ralph 124c 41 +, by Hugo Gernsback.
Published by Modern Electrics in 1911
Additional resources -

The invention of stainless steel is most often attributed to Harry Bearly, an English inventor, in 1916. Bearly was asked to try to find a steel for gun barrels that would be less subject to corrosion. He found that adding chromium to low carbon steel enhanced its corrosion resistance. Stainless steel flatware has been used since 1920; it wasn't widely used in homes until a decade later. Stainless steel sinks were popular in the 1930's. See also the interesting comment by reader Daedelus.

Stainless steel literally "stains less" because the chromium in the steel combines with oxygen in the atmosphere to form a thin, invisible layer of chrome-containing oxide, called the passive film. (The same thing happens with aluminum railings, etc.; aluminum oxide, the passive film on the surface of the metal, is completely clear and very strong.) The sizes of chromium atoms and their oxides are similar, so they pack neatly together on the surface of the metal, forming a stable layer only a few atoms thick. The corrosion resistance of stainless steel is dependent on oxygen to "repair" the passive layer on the surface; that's why if you leave stainless steel flatware in water for a few days, you can still get some corrosion (rust) on the surface of the flatware. There is a nice article on this subject at Why is stainless steel stainless.

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Additional resources:
  More Ideas and Technology from Ralph 124c 41 +
  More Ideas and Technology by Hugo Gernsback
  Tech news articles related to Ralph 124c 41 +
  Tech news articles related to works by Hugo Gernsback

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