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The Past, Present and Future of Specialty Metals 

Carpenter Technology HistoryJames Carpenter portrait


Carpenter’s Beginnings

In June 1889, U.S. Navy veteran and former construction engineer James Carpenter laid the foundation for a legacy of materials innovation that continues today.

When early industry started turning from iron toward a new era of “special” steels, the Carpenter Steel Company’s premier product at its one-building plant in Reading, Pennsylvania, was an air-hardened tool steel patented by Mr. Carpenter. The company would develop several more tool steels, ultimately offering the range of tooling that would be needed by the burgeoning industrial era.

Mr. Carpenter’s tool steel patent would be the first of more than 200 for developments in melting technology, powder metallurgy, stainless steels, high-strength alloys, superior corrosion-resistant alloys, and other specialty metals.

New Markets

During the early 20th century, Carpenter materials quickly became integral to the swift development of the aerospace industry. Our alloys were used in Wright Brothers heavier-than-air “aeroplanes,” and today we are a significant supplier of specialty materials that have been used in jet engine blades, electronics, landing gear and titanium bolts, among other high-tech applications.

Also around the turn of the 20th century, the upstart manufacturers of “motor cars” were in need of specialty metals for such parts as gears, valves, Crucible melting 1890sconnecting rods, axles, and steering knuckles. Metallurgists at the Carpenter Steel Company developed Chrome-Nickel 5-317 in 1905, a high strength steel with extraordinary toughness that resisted shock and vibration. By 1908, the company was producing 10 automotive steels. That year, those steels helped to propel the Locomobile racer to the Vanderbilt Cup.

Carpenter’s foundation of knowledge in these early markets led to materials advances in the energy, medical, industrial and consumer products industries.

Pioneering in New Products

By the 1920s, Carpenter continued its pioneering ways by devoting research to a new realm of specialty metals: stainless steels. Carpenter pioneered improvements in this revolutionary new steel. In 1928, Carpenter announced a major milestone: the world’s first free-machining straight-chrome stainless, Type 416 (still in use today). The company followed with the first chrome-nickel free-machining stainless steel in 1932, known today as Type 303. Fabricators were thrilled that the free-machining stainless improved tool life and productivity. As a result, the Carpenter name quickly became synonymous with stainless steels.

Another milestone for the metals industry occurred in 1937 when Carpenter metallurgist Frank Palmer developed the Matched Set method of tool steel selection and heat treatment. “Tool Steel Simplified” would become an industry standard in tool and machine shops for more than 40 years. Carpenter continues to produce a broad spectrum of tool and die steels including gas-atomized powder metallurgy alloys.

During the post-war 1950s, manufacturers of cold-headed fasteners needed a chrome-nickel stainless that work hardened more slowly during the fabrication process. Thanks to Carpenter’s Stainless No. 10, cold-heading wire customers dramatically improved production of bolts and other fasteners.

Also during this post-war boom, manufacturers needed an alloy that would withstand harsh chemicals. Carpenter patented a process that used rare earth elements as additives to improve the hot-workability of highly alloyed stainless steels. Carpenter's 20Cb-3® stainless (Stainless 20) became a staple in the chemical-processing industry for decades.

In 1968 our name changed to Carpenter Technology Corporation to better reflect a diverse product line and technological capabilities. Even the Statue of Liberty has benefited from Carpenter’s history of innovation: In 1986 she received new ribs fabricated from corrosion-resistant Carpenter Type 316L stainless steel.

Navy jet fighter AerMet 100 alloy landing gearCarpenter received a patent in 1992 for super-strong AerMet® 100 alloy. The alloy was first used on landing gear of jet fighters based on aircraft carriers. AerMet® 100 was named one of the top material advances of the decade by the National Association for Science, Technology and Society.

In 1997, the company introduced Custom 465 stainless steel to the aerospace industry with a unique combination of high strength, toughness and corrosion resistance. The alloy greatly exceeded expectations, finding many applications in diverse industries such as marine equipment, firearms, oil and gas drilling, and the medical industry.

Continuing a history of improvements in stainless machinability, Carpenter metallurgists released the Project 70®+ family of stainless machining bar in 2002. Not willing to stand on our laurels, Carpenter launched Project 70+ PDB stainless machining bar in 2013 to help customers optimize their CNC Swiss-style screw machine operations. Visit MachiningZone to learn more about this superior precision drawn material.

Acquisitions that began in the 1990s have given Carpenter one of the broadest portfolios of stainless steels and specialty metals in the world. Learn more about Carpenter's business units.

Carpenter’s dedicated engineers and metallurgists continue the quest to provide next-generation materials that will meet customers’ newest design challenges.