A bimetallic strip is used to convert a temperature change into mechanical displacement. The strip consists of two strips of different metals which expand at different rates as they are heated, usually steel and copper, or in some cases steel and brass. The strips are joined together throughout their length by riveting, brazing or welding. The different expansions force the flat strip to bend one way if heated, and in the opposite direction if cooled below its initial temperature. The metal with the higher coefficient of thermal expansion is on the outer side of the curve when the strip is heated and on the inner side when cooled.
The sideways displacement of the strip is much larger than the small lengthways expansion in either of the two metals. This effect is used in a range of mechanical and electrical devices. In some applications the bimetal strip is used in the flat form. In others, it is wrapped into a coil for compactness. The greater length of the coiled version gives improved sensitivity.
The earliest surviving bimetallic strip was made by the eighteenth-century clockmaker John Harrison who is generally credited with its invention. He made it for his third marine chronometer (H3) of 1759 to compensate for temperature-induced changes in the balance spring.It should not be confused with his bimetallic mechanism for correcting for thermal expansion in the gridiron pendulum. His earliest examples had two individual metal strips joined by rivets but he also invented the later technique of directly fusing molten brass onto a steel substrate. A strip of this type was fitted to his last timekeeper, H5. Harrison's invention is recognized in the memorial to him in Westminster Abbey, England.