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Archive for Paint Memorabilia

The Story of “How Paint Ended Up in a Can”

The Story of “How Paint Ended Up in a Can”

This summer, I was asked to write a feature article for the 50Th Anniversary of the Paint & Decorating Retailer magazine. Appropriately, it became an article about the story of how paint ended up in a can! I love history and I love to tell stories in a way that alters and enriches the readers’ perspective. I also took the opportunity to showcase some of the paint memorabilia I have been collecting (“rescuing”) for over twenty years.

Historically, for as long as mankind existed, painters were the “mixers” of the ingredients of paint. The needs of the day dictated how much and what was mixed. The Industrial Revolution and an explosion in the population combined to create a situation where the needs for paint began to outstrip painters’ ability to meet the demand. Painters started begging manufacturers of paint ingredients to start making ready-mixed paints., thereby giving birth toe “paint can”.

As painters lost their foothold in paint-making, the Chemist emerged as the “King of the Hill”. The chemist became the “mixer” in the lab to meet an ever-increasingly sophisticated array of needs for paint. This article is a collection of anecdotes, pictures and artifacts that depict that transition, along with the major technological innovations that made it all possible.

Another Collection of Paint Memorabilia Was Preserved

For over twenty years, I have been collecting (and salvaging) paint memorabilia. Over time, I have gained a reputation as a “custodian” of the industry’s past. Much of the items in my collection were donated to me, sometime days away from being discarded.

Oil, Paint and Drug Reporter, Circa 1871

This past week, I received a call from Tom Whiting, the Managing Director at G.R. O’Shea Company, a distributor and rep of ingredients for the paint industry. James, his dad, had acquired the business in the early 80’s. James had been a member and leader in the Chicago Paint and Coatings Association his whole career. Following his dad’s passing, Tom was looking to downsize the office. Time had come to let go of his dad’s collection of paint memorabilia and industry books. Wanting to make sure his dad’s collection would be preserved, Tom contacted me and said “take everything you want”. So, I did!

Rare Book on Paint Questions

I want to highlight a couple of the items I received from Tom. First, there was a framed reproduction of an 1871, one-page edition of the weekly Oil, Paint and Drug Reporter, which had been republished by The Chemical Marketing Newspaper in 1971. As show in the picture of the top portion of the journal, that issue described the market trends and prices for a variety of oils, ranging from linseed, cottonseed, palm, to a wide array of animal oils like whale, cod, castor etc.

Then, there was a book entitled 1995 Paint Questions answered published in 1919 by The Painters Magazine. Here are a few questions taken at random:
– How do you finish white pine in the “Natural”?
– What is the effect of frost on fresh oil paint?
– What is the effect of sanding the old paint layer for the durability of the next coat?
– What is the best way to kill knots in wood?
– What is the effect of vines on paint?
– How do you do a permanent job of porch floor painting?

I believe that understanding history empowers our future as a person, people and industry. Additionally, much wisdom can be gained from understanding history. Plus I find it fascinating!

Creating Awareness about the History of Paint in America

As a Chicago area painting and decorating contractor for nearly twenty five years, I have always been fascinated by paint memorabilia and the history of paint through the ages. Over the years, I have accumulated a vast array of tools, equipment, signs, catalogs and publicity materials of different kinds.

During the last three years, I established a web presence to showcase my interest in paint memorabilia. That move helped me to get recognized as a custodian of the history of the paint industry in the United States. In April of 2010, I was contacted by a librarian at Valspar in Minnesota. Once headquartered in Rockford, Illinois, being an acquisition-minded company, Valspar purchased a number of prominent Chicago paint manufacturers, such as Elliot Paint, Chicago Paint Works (Chief Paint), Stetson, Enterprise, Armstrong to name a few. In the process, they inherited the paint catalogs these companies used to promote their different lines of paint, along with the promotional, point-of-sale materials, color cards, etc. When Valspar moved its headquarters to Minneapolis in 1970, that paint memorabilia collection ended up in storage there for forty years. When Valspar made the decision to move to a new Minneapolis location, that collection became extra baggage that needed to find a new home. This is when the story takes an interesting turn!

Presentation at the Glessner House in Chicago

Determined to find a reliable custodian for that very special collection, the Valspar librarian first contacted the Chicago History Museum to ascertain their interest. They turned down Valspar’s offer to donate the collection to them. Refusing to give up her quest, the librarian found me on the web and started a conversation that led to the transfer of most of the Valspar Collection of paint memorabilia to my custody. The story does not end there. In fact, the real story just began!

Among this memorabilia, was a bound collection of eight supplements to its newsletter that the Armstrong Paint Company produced and published in 1946-1947 to celebrate its upcoming centennial in Chicago. These supplements depicted the history of paint from the caveman, through antiquity, the colonies, the Industrial Revolution and the roaring 1920’s. It is a treasure trove of information, pictures and stories. I was so inspired, that I decided to develop a Powerpoint presentation on the “History of Paint in America” to tell the story of how paint evolved from mixing ingredients in the field to ready-made paint in cans. The story also highlights the major technological and socio-economic developments that made that evolution possible.

Since I developed that presentation, I have given it to seven different groups in the painting industry, interior design, architecture and the historical restoration field. Keeping history alive to inspire our future is what the “History of Paint in America” is all about. Thanks to Valspar and the Armstrong Paint Company for their essential contribution to this result.

The History of Paint in America: Transiting from “Ingredient Mixing” to Paint in a Can

When thinking of painting, one automatically thinks of ready-mixed paint in cans. However, the advent of the paint can is a fairly recent phenomenon. For centuries and going back into antiquity, painters were “ingredient mixers”, as well as applicators. There was no such a thing as ready-mixed paints. Painters mixed their paints as they went along. Whoever knew the formulas had a high level of “job security” in those days!

First Spray Painting Machine in America, Chicago, Circa 1892

It was not until 1867 that the first US patent was issued for a read-mixed paint. The ingredients listed in the patent were as follows: oxide of zinc, acetate of lead, sulfate of zinc, silicate of soda diluted in water, lime water and linseed. This list of ingredients may help to explain why, for the better part of the following twenty years, ready-mixed paints had a serious image problem. They were considered to be inferior and undependable.

Then, what is it that caused the balance to tilt in favor of the ready-mixed paints? A few key factors contributed to that outcome. First, the American Industrial Revolution took root during the 1870’s and 1880’s. During that same period, there was also tremendous population growth, fueled by a considerable influx of immigrants. As an example, Chicago’s population grew from 298,000 in 1870 to 1.7 million in 1900. These two forces collided to create the perfect storm for something else to emerge as the painting industry’s driving force: the chemist and paint lab. As the industrial revolution progressed, the needs for painting surfaces became more and more complex and the demand for paints began to outstrip painter’s ability to mix the ingredients. The paint can was born to stay.

As a house painting contractor from the Chicago area, I have always been fascinated by paint memorabilia and the history of the painting industry. I not only have a considerable memorabilia collection, but I also give lectures to interior designers, architects and other interested groups on the History of Paint in America.

Painting Cars by Hand – No More!

I recently came across an interesting piece of paint memorabilia, which sheds light on an important chapter in the development of the painting industry. Did you know that, up to the early 1920’s, cars were painted by hand? With all the coats needed and the long dry times, the painting process of an auto took 38 days. A giant bottleneck like this must really have upset Mr. Ford! Can you imagine the size of the paint shop? The advent of nitro cellulose lacquer and the concurrent development of sprayers changed all that, forever.

Painting of Cars Prior to Nitro Cellulose Lacquer

Following World War 1, there were great surpluses of nitro cellulose, which was no longer needed for the production of explosives. There were also large supplies of butyl alcohol. By the late 1910’s, laboratories, which had become a permanent feature of the painting industry, began to experiment with combining those two elements and one day, “presto”, there was lacquer! The quick dry time of lacquers, combined with the development of sprayers, reduced the painting time of a car from 38 days to 8 days and eventually to 8 hours. That made Mr. Ford, very happy!

The development of lacquer had a dramatic impact on the productivity of the automotive industry and the overall welfare of Americans. It took a few more years for the painting industry to develop brushing versions of lacquers, which could be used in the house-painting field.

In addition to preserving surfaces, Painting In Partnership, from the Chicago area, also looks to preserve and bring to life the history of the painting industry in the United States.