1880s, United States

Although painted interior house walls were popular since about 1500 B.C., and paint itself had been known for some twenty thousand years, the first commercial, ready-mixed paints did not appear until 1880. Home owners and professionals had been preparing their own bases and blending their own colors. Ready-made paints would create the entirely new phenomenon of the do-it-yourself painter.

Paint for decorative purposes existed for thousands of years before its use of protective interior and exterior coating was conceived. It was the large-scale manufacture of linseed oil from the flax plant and pigment-grade zinc oxide that produced a rapid expansion of the paint industry. In the nineteenth century, for the first time, paint pigment and the liquid that carried it were combined before the paint was marketed. The concept was revolutionary.

Sherwin-Williams. A major pioneer in the field of ready-made paint was Henry Alden Sherwin, who in creating a new industry changed the way we decorate our homes.

In 1870, when Sherwin informed his partners in a paint component business-that he was going ahead with plants for a ready-mixed paint, they responded that the time had come to dissolve the young firm of Sherwin, Dunham and Griswold. Home-owners mixed their own paint and knew what colors they wanted.

Sherwin believed that factory -crafted paint, benefiting from standardized measurements and ingredients, would be consistently superior to the hit-or-miss home-mixed kind. He located a new partner, Edward Williams, who shared that conviction, and after ten years of painstaking development, grinding pigments fine enough to remain suspended in oil, the Sherwin-Williams Company of Cleveland, Ohio, introduced the world’s first ready-mixed paint in 1880.

Professional and amateur painters gladly abandoned the chore of combining their own white lead base, linseed oil, turpentine, and coloring pigments. And Sherwin encouraged Americans to become do-it-yourself painters inside and outside their homes. To bolster their new market, the company, through its local distribution, guided home owners through the labors of surface preparation, preliminary coatings, color aesthetics, and the appropriate choice of brushes and clean-up materials. The public discovered that commercial paint did more than protect a surface, it rejuvenated a home.

What home and furniture restorers would discover decades later was that the first ready-mixed paint created a painting frenzy. It became voguish to cover over carved wooden mantels, window and door moldings, paneled walls and beamed ceilings of walnut, mahogany, oak, ebony, and other inherently rich woods. Antique armoires, hutches, and settles were painted. Today these surfaces are being stripped by owners who, engaged in a labor of love, question: “Why did anyone ever paint this piece?”