Brinell, Johan August

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Brinell, Johan August

(b. Bringetofta, Sweden, 21 June 1849; d. Stockholm, 17 November 1925)

metallurgy, materials testing.

While he is best known as the originator of a standard procedure for determining the hardness of a metal, Brinell also did significant work on the metallurgy of steel.

The son of Johannes Månsson, a farmer, and Katarina Jonasdotter, Brinell graduated in 1871 from the technical school in Borås and was employed in the Swedish iron industry for some fifty years. From 1882 to 1903 he was chief engineer of the Fagersta Ironworks, where his most original scientific work was done. He was chief engineer of Jernkontoret, an iron industry association, from 1903 to 1914, and chairman of the board of Fagersta from 1915 to 1923. He was a member of the Swedish Academy of Science and the (British) Iron and Steel Institute; and he received the Polhem Medal in 1900, the Bessemer Medal in 1907, and an honorary Ph.D. from Uppsala in 1907, as well as many other awards. He was married in 1880 to Selma Nilsson.

Brinell’s first studies at Fagersta, which were concerned with changes of the internal structure of steel as it was heated or cooled, compared the appearance of steel fracture surfaces in a very large number of experiments. His first major paper (1885) was, in the opinion of Cyril Stanley Smith, “… a monument of imaginative and careful work and shows how much can be learned about steel without knowledge of its microstructure.” However, the work of Floris Osmond, in which microstructure was identified through microscopic examination of etched surfaces, published also in 1885, overshadowed Brinell’s work. Nevertheless, Osmond’s conclusions probably were accepted more readily by the iron industry because they were reinforced by Brinell’s, which were based upon an observational procedure well known in the shop.

Brinell’s apparatus for testing the hardness of a material was first displayed in 1900 at the Paris Exposition. A hardened steel ball, 10 millimeters in diameter, is pressed into the test surface under a heavy load (up to 3,000 kilograms). The Brinell hardness number (Bhn) in kg/mm2 is calculated by dividing the load by the area of indentation. This procedure, not essentially modified, is still one of the most widely used tests of hardness.


I. Original Works. Brinell’s works include “Om ståls texturförändringar under uppvärmning och afkylning,” in Jern-kontorets annaler, n.s., 40 (1885), 9–38, published in German in Stahl und Eisen, 5 (1885), 611–620, and abstracted in English as “Changes in the Texture of Steel on Heating and Cooling,” in Journal of the Iron and Steel Institute (1885), no. 1, 365–367; and “Sätt att bestämma kroppars hårdhet jämte några tillämpningar of detsamma,” in Teknisk tidskrift, 30 (1900) [section on mechanics], 69–87; English version prepared by Axel Wahlberg as “Brinell’s Method of Determining Hardness and Other Properties of Iron and Steel,” in Journal of the Iron and Steel Institute (1901), no. 1, 243–298, and no. 2, 234–271.

II. Secondary Literature. The best biographical sketch is in Svenskt biografiski lexicon, VI (Stockholm, 1926), 236–241, which includes a list of Brinell’s works. An obituary notice is in Journal of the Iron and Steel Institute (1926), no. 1, 482–483. A critical analysis of Brinell’s 1885 paper is in Henry M. Howe, The Metallurgy of Steel (New York, 1890), pp. 170–175. See also Cyril Stanley Smith, History of Metallography (Chicago, 1960), esp. pp. 119–121.

Eugene S. Ferguson