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Stainless Steel Uses In Monuments and Sculptures


The first thing that comes to mind when you think of stainless steel is likely cutlery. This revolutionary metal is best known for its prevalence in the kitchen. This is thanks to stainless steel’s extraordinary corrosion resistance. This means that utensils, tools, and medical equipment made from stainless steel are easy to clean and sterilize, and have a much longer life cycle. Moreover, since there is no need for other surface coatings, it is popular in commercial kitchens and food processing plants as well.

But there is more to stainless steel than just kitchen equipment and surgical instruments. Many people do not realize just how much modern architecture and design have been influenced by the development of stainless steel. This includes many of the most iconic monuments and sculptures around the world. From the very earliest days of its discovery, people have looked for ways to utilize stainless steel in artwork, architecture, and public monuments.

The Early History of Stainless Steel

Looking back at the very early days of stainless steel takes us to the 1800s, as scientists and metallurgists around the world sought new materials that could endure longer than traditional steel, which has always been susceptible to the elements. As early as the 1820s, it was known that a combination of iron and chromium was better able to withstand corrosion. However, experiments at the time were not able to overcome the problem of brittleness, which lead the resulting alloys to be unusable on a commercial scale.

It wasn’t until later that century, in 1872, that the first scientist developed a metal combination that would later be considered stainless steel. Over the next several decades, more alloys followed that were patented and attempts were made to industrialize them at scale. Finally, in 1912, Harry Brearley of Brown-Firth in Sheffield, England, discovered a martensitic stainless steel alloy that was ripe for industrializing. The development warranted an article in the New York Times, and Firth Vickers marketed the material under the “Staybrite” brand. Among other notable uses, it was deployed in the entrance canopy of the Savoy Hotel in London in 1929.

Until that time, bronze had been the material of choice for outdoor sculptures, panels, and fixtures. Stainless steel quickly became a trendier option, and the 1930’s and 40’s saw an explosion of artwork and architecture built from stainless steel. Perhaps the most famous example is the Chrysler Building in New York City.

The exterior of the building makes extensive use of Enduro KA-2 in its design, including the spire. This is an austenitic stainless steel better known under the trade name Nirosta, which is a German acronym for nichtrostender Stahl, meaning “non-rusting steel.” The Chrysler Building was the first time for Nirosta steel to be used commercially. This metal has also been called 18-8 stainless steel, thanks to the fact it is composed of 18% chromium and 8% nickel.

In addition to the spire, Nirosta was used in the exterior ornaments, the window frames, and the crown. The architect, William Van Alen, selected the stainless steel specifically because of its bright, silvery appearance. He wanted the metal to make a grand statement, aesthetically, and it has come to be a symbol of modern architecture.

Because it was one of the first times for stainless steel to be used in architecture, it was something of an experiment. In 1929, the American Society for Testing Materials established an inspection committee in order to oversee the environmental effects of stainless steel over time. They examined the building’s metal exterior every five years until 1960 when they discontinued the program because the panels had shown minimal deterioration.

Famous Monuments Featuring Stainless Steel

The success and popularity of the Chrysler Building created a movement. Many popular monuments subsequently turned to stainless steel thanks to its corrosion resistance and durability. Among the most famous is the St. Louis Gateway Arch, the tallest human-made monument in the United States, and the tallest stainless steel structure in the world. At 630 feet tall, it relied on a record-setting amount of stainless steel. The architect and structural engineer designed it in 1949, following closely on the art deco style that had become so popular in New York City in the 30’s. However, construction on the arch did not begin until the 1960’s.

Many monuments worldwide have followed in the footsteps of the Gateway Arch, relying on stainless steel in part or full. One of the most renowned examples is the United States Air Force Memorial in Northern Virginia. Dedicated in 2006, the three stainless steel spires are meant to evoke the contrails of the Air Force Thunderbirds in their missing man formation. Other well-known monuments include the Sibelius Monument in Helsinki, Finland, and the Spire of Dublin in Ireland.

Further proving the growing reliance on stainless steel in architecture and design, the 130-foot tall Genghis Khan Equestrian Statue in Ulanbataar, Mongolia is a testament to the metal’s symbolic appeal and structural advantages. Built in 2008, it was designed by sculptor D. Erdenebileg and architect J. Enkhjargal.

Famous Sculptures Featuring Stainless Steel

When you are 130 feet tall, it is hard to say whether you are a monument or a sculpture. But for many other works of art, which are of a much more manageable scale, no such distinction is necessary. Once the Chrysler Building had shown what was possible with stainless steel, many artists began experimenting with the material.

In New York City, sculptor Isamu Noguchi used stainless steel instead of bronze for his sculpture News. This was an Art Deco plaque of five journalists that was installed outside the Rockefeller Plaza in 1940. It was the world’s first cast stainless steel sculpture and stands at 22 ft. high by 17 ft. wide.

Other famous public sculptures that are predominantly stainless steel include the balloon dog sculptures of Jeff Koons, which were built throughout the 90’s, and Chicago’s Cloud Gate sculpture built in 2006. These sculptures, and others like them, are best known for their highly reflective surfaces and mirrored finishes.


To learn more about how Clinton Aluminum and Stainless Steel can help supply your stainless steel needs, whether for architecture, sculpture, or any other industrial use, contact us today.

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