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History

History: 20th century

Harry Brearley is famous for the invention of stainless steel in 1913. Firth Brown was intent on developing improved alloys for gun barrels and one failed high-chrome trial left to the elements for some weeks did not rust.

Brearley gave samples to friends to forge into cutlery blades - the rest is history.

The First World War meant peak production, but over 1,000 of the River Don workforce joined the army and production was severely curtailed.

The great depression of the 1920s forced rationalisation. English Steel was borne from a merger with Cammell Laird and the Vickers Group. Firth Brown was also consolidated. Vickers embarked on a major reinvestment programme in the 1930s.

World War II saw output reach new heights. The River Don Works was a key target - though largely missed - during the Sheffield blitz. This was vital to the war effort as the only forge able to produce crankshafts for the Merlin engine, which powered both Spitfire and Lancaster aircraft, remained unscathed. The Grimesthorpe foundry produced Barnes Wallace's bouncing bombs for use in bombing raids on the Möhne, Sorpe and Eder dams in Germany and also the largest-ever conventional bomb at 10 tons - used to destroy V2 sites.

The strategic importance of Sheffield steel was emphasised by illustrious visitors including Winston Churchill to the River Don Works.

After the war the business developed a new range of products including turbine rotors and boiler drums for power stations and ships, railway suspensions and couplers, high performance rolling mill rolls and other steel-plant products, as well as components for the world's first nuclear power station at Calder Hall.

The River Don Works was re-nationalised in 1967 into British Steel. New business was developed including castings for the offshore oil industry. The prototype casting is now displayed outside the works on the Forgemasters' traffic island.

In 1983, Firth Brown amalgamated with the River Don Works to form the private sector company, Sheffield Forgemasters, employing a workforce of 6,500. Within three years and despite an annual turnover of £100m, the company recorded losses of approximately £20m per annum.

In 1984, shareholders of Forgemasters wrote off their investments, fired the entire board and brought in new management and a survival plan.

Following trade union strike action, the survival and success of the business was ensured and the renowned River Don Castings and offshore specialist OSCAL subsidiary companies were formed.

With British Steel due for privatisation in 1987, Sheffield Forgemasters' management agreed a management buy-out (MBO). The company's success through the next decade bucked the trend by dramatic increases in export sales. Queen's Awards for Technology and Export were also received.

In 1998 the company was sold in two parts to USA buyers - the aerospace business to Allegheny Teledyne, and the River Don and Rolls businesses to Atchison Castings.