A History of Paint through the Ages

A History of paint through the ages


South African archaeologists reported finding a 100,000-year-old human-made ochre-based mixture that could have been used like painting Cave paintings drawn with red or yellow ochre, hematite, manganese oxide, and charcoal may have been made by early Homo sapiens as long as 40,000 years ago.


A piece of Giant clam shell used to hold ochre paint in pre-dynastic ancient Egypt

Ancient colored walls at Dendera, Egypt, which were exposed for years to the elements, still possess their brilliant color, as vivid as when they were painted about 2,000 years ago. The Egyptians mixed their colors with a gummy substance, and applied them separately from each other without any blending or mixture. They appear to have used six colors: white, black, blue, red, yellow, and green. They first covered the area entirely with white, then traced the design in black, leaving out the lights of the ground color. They used red lead for red, and generally of a dark tinge.

Pliny the Roman historian mentions some painted ceilings in his day in the town of Ardea, which had been done prior to the foundation of Rome. He expresses great surprise and admiration at their freshness, after the lapse of so many centuries.

Paint was made with the yolk of eggs and therefore, the substance would harden and adhere to the surface it was applied to. Pigment was made from plants, sand, and different soils. Most paints used either oil or water as a base (the dilutent, solvent or vehicle for the pigment).


A still existent example of 17th-century house oil painting is Ham House in Surrey, England, where a primer was used along with several undercoats and an elaborate decorative overcoat; the pigment and oil mixture would have been ground into a paste with a mortar and pestle. The process was done by hand by the painters and exposed them to lead poisoning due to the white-lead powder.


In 1718, Marshall Smith invented a “Machine or Engine for the Grinding of Colours” in England. It is not known precisely how it operated, but it was a device that increased the efficiency of pigment grinding dramatically. Soon, a company called Emerton and Manby was advertising exceptionally low-priced paints that had been ground with labour-saving technology:

ADD: One Pound of Colour ground in a Horse-Mill will paint twelve Yards of Work, whereas Colour ground any other Way, will not do half that Quantity.

By the proper onset of the Industrial Revolution, paint was being ground in steam-powered mills and an alternative to lead-based pigments was found in a white derivative of zinc oxide. Interior house painting increasingly became the norm as the 19th century progressed, both for decorative reasons and because the paint was effective in preventing the walls rotting from damp. Linseed oil was also increasingly used as an inexpensive binder.

In 1866, Sherwin-Williams in the United States opened as a large paint-maker and invented a paint that could be used from the tin without preparation.

It was not until the stimulus of World War II created a shortage of linseed oil in the supply market that artificial resins, or oil based alkyds, were invented. Cheap and easy to make, they also held the color well and lasted for a long time.

Emulsion or acrylic latex paint is a mixture of two or more liquids that are normally unmixable or non blendable. Emulsions are part of a more general class of two-phase systems called colloids. Although the terms colloid and emulsion are sometimes used interchangeably, emulsion should be used when both the dispersed and the continuous phase are liquids. In an emulsion, one liquid is dispersed in the other. Examples of emulsions include vinaigrettes, milk and mayonnaise, the word “emulsion” comes from the Latin word for “to milk”, and as milk is an emulsion of fat and water, among other components. Two liquids can form different types of emulsions. As an example, oil and water can form, an oil-in-water emulsion, wherein the oil is the dispersed phase, and water is the dispersion medium.



Ripolin is a brand of paint. That was the first commercially available brand of enamel paint. Ripolin, a brand of commercial ready-mixed paints formulated for architectural, marine and other applications, originated in the Netherlands where it was developed by the chemist Carl Julius Ferdinand Riep. In 1897, the Briegleb paint company, as it was then known, formed a partnership with the French firm Lefranc, a manufacturer of artists’ materials. The merged company was named Ripolin, in honor of Riep, and a Ripolin factory was established in France. Ripolin paints became sufficiently renowned during the period that “ripolin” became synonymous with enamel paints in general and entered the French dictionary as early as 1907.. Picasso and Le Corbusier both used Ripolin in their works. The latter’s argument against ornamentation and the promotion of the use of white enamel ripolin was famously documented in his Law of Ripolin. Today Ripolin is the property of PPG Industries



As early as 1934 the first usable acrylic resin dispersion was developed by German chemical company BASF, which was patented by Rohm and Haas. The synthetic paint was first used in 1940s, combining some of the properties of oil and watercolor between 1946 and 1949, Leonard Bocour and Sam Golden invented a solution acrylic paint under the brand Magna paint. These were mineral spirit-based paints. Acrylics were made commercially available in the 1950s. A waterborne acrylic paint called “Aquatec” would soon follow. Otto Rohm invented acrylic resin, which quickly transformed into acrylic paint. In 1953, the year that Rohm and Haas developed the first acrylic emulsions. Water-based acrylic paints were subsequently sold as latex house paints, as latex is the technical term for a suspension of polymer micro particles in water. Interior latex house paints tend to be a combination of acrylic, vinyl, PVA, and others), filler, pigment, and water. Exterior latex house paints may also be a blend, but the best exterior water-based paints are 100% acrylic, due to elasticity and other factors, but vinyl costs half of what 100% acrylic resins cost, and PVA (polyvinyl acetate) is even cheaper, so paint companies make many combinations of them to match the market.

The story of one companies rise to fame

Benjamin Moore




 Benjamin Moore in the US was known almost from the start for its innovations and readymade paint in a can. The company’s first game-changing product was Muresco, a ready-mix paint first sold in 1892. Its ingredients included Irish moss and Pennsylvania clay, and it quickly became the dominant calcimine paint (WHITEWASH} in the U.S. Muresco was a powder that had to be combined with water, but it was far more convenient than painstakingly following a paint recipe. The marvel of Muresco was that it was all there, right in the mix. During its reign, more than 30 colors of Muresco were produced.

Benjamin Moore hardly rested on its laurels. Sani-Flat, a matte oil paint made without lead that could withstand multiple washings, was Benjamin Moore’s next advance in paint technology. By the late 1920s, Sani-Flat came in 20 colors, and it’s still available today. Unilac soon followed; it was a kind of enamel that dried rapidly and could replace lacquer.

Benjamin Moore began expanding in 1897, when factories started up in Chicago and Cleveland. Nine years later, the company incorporated a branch in Canada. In addition to building new facilities, Benjamin Moore hired a chemist and created a research department. In 1925, a member of the Moore family designed the logo – an “M” inside a triangle – that still represents the business today.

Benjamin Moore didn’t just manufacture paint and sell it; the company also tried to inform its customers. Around the turn of the 19th century, Benjamin Moore produced leaflets on home decorating, and in 1929, it established a decorating department. Consumers could write letters or show up in person to pick the brains of the decorating staff. Another of the company’s diplomats was highly influential despite not being real. Betty Moore, intended as painting’s answer to Betty Crocker, was portrayed by an assortment of actresses between the 1930s and ’60s. Her primary function: dispensing house-painting advice on a radio show that aired each week.

Benjamin Moore’s business didn’t suffer as much as many other companies’ during World War I, the Great Depression, and World War II. After the latter war, Benjamin Moore produced a civilian-friendly equivalent to its military-grade industrial coatings. (From 1948 on, military coatings were the responsibility of the Technical Coatings Company, a division of Benjamin Moore.) Latex paint became quite popular after the war as well, since it was both easier to use and less difficult to clean, as well as being kinder to the planet. A company long lauded for its forward-thinking products, Benjamin Moore was now heralded for its progressive approach to the environment. During the second half of the 20th century, BM turned out one innovative paint after another. First came Regal Wall Satin, in 1957, a latex paint with one big selling point: It was very, very easy to apply. Fifteen years later, Regal Aqua Velvet shook things up again; its eggshell finish was low gloss but extremely resistant to scrubbing, which made it highly washable. In 1976, to celebrate America’s 200th birthday, Benjamin Moore and the National Park Service put out the Historic Colors Collection, which drew inspiration from NPS archives of historic homes.

This is just the story of one paint company there were 100’s including in the US Glidden, ICI, PPG and many others absorbed by bigger players.

So to summarize the above facts oil paints were started in Europe commercialized in the USA where later water based latex and acrylic was perfected using German technology. Today BASF still is one of the leaders in the chemical industry, Rhome and Haas has been bought by Dow Chemicals an American company.