Interesting Facts About the History of House Painting


In order to know how we got to our current state in the house painting industry, it’s important to learn interesting facts about paint. This will help us understand why paint is so important for us.

Painting has been an invaluable part of our dwellings. Aside from beautifying, painting also provides added protection to the surfaces of our walls. We now have a wide array of options when it comes to high-quality house exterior painting, including all-weather paint, emulsion, different textures, etc.

Painting in 38,000 BC

There is evidence that people back in 38,000 BC used to make their own paint in order to draw on the walls of their caves. Obviously, the paints they used were made of all-natural materials. These would most probably have included animal fat, soot, and earth. The soot would be easy enough to procure from their fires, while bison blood was available for some color change.

The Cave of Lascaux

The Cave of Lascaux is a series of caves in southwestern France. This features some very famous prehistoric sketches and paintings. With these preserved works, we know that ancient civilizations in prehistoric times had already begun using paints.

These prehistoric paints may have consisted of a mixture of animal fat, clay and/or groundwater (which was rich in calcium). The calcium content would have acted as a binding agent.

It’s also evident that the paintings in this cave complex are the work of several generations. This is made evident by the various stages of deterioration, along with the different painting styles. Some of the work is swabbed or blotted on the walls, rather than applied with a brush. In other areas, the paint seems like it was blown through a kind of tube. Some places also have very soft rock, where the designed were incised into the wall and then painted.

Decorating Home Interiors

Today, homeowners have no qualms or second thoughts about painting their homes’ interiors and exteriors. Back in the 1600s, though, choosing to paint one’s house was met with disapproval and even censure.

The Pilgrims, who inhabited the American colonies during the 1600s, were following a strictly modest lifestyle. For them, adorning one’s home with colorful paint was seen as an act of vanity, immodesty, excess and even blasphemy. Painting one’s home was viewed as an actual criminal deed. In fact, in 1630, a Charleston preacher who painted his own home was eventually charged with sacrilege.

Beautification with Paint

House paint was usually considered to be mostly for protection at one point. However, in 1638, we had one of the first examples of a house that was beautified through the use of paint. That house, called the Ham House, is located in Surrey, England. The house was re-painted with oil paint, which painters during that time mixed by grinding pigment and oil together.

17th-Century House Painting

17th-Century House Painting

The 17th century was an especially important one when it came to house painting. Around this time, there were a lot of practices and technology that changed the landscape for this industry beyond recognition.

Painters during the 1600s used to grind pigment and oil using the common mortar and pestle to make a stiff paste. This is a kind of paint-making practice which is still used today, although it’s probably much more expensive to make and use than the more common mass-produced versions.

The First American Paint Mill

The first paint mill in America was opened in 1700 in Boston, Massachusetts. Thomas Child was the man behind this project. The mill consisted of a granite trough inside which a granite ball rolled.

Paint Production in the 18th Century

During the 1700s, paint production transformed even more drastically than before. Until the 1700s and onward, Production of paint was done purely by hand, which was mainly grinding pigment with oil as described above.

The 1700s saw several technological innovations in this area, which effectively changed the way people made and use paint for houses. One example of such innovations is Marshall Smith’s “Machine or Engine for the Grinding of Colors” in 1718. This invention enhanced the efficiency of grinding pigmentation by a significant amount. Not much is known about its exact operation, but it would probably have reduced the burden of grinding by hand.

The Steam-Powered Paint Mill

The Steam-Powered Paint Mill

By the time the 1800s rolled around, most of the paint mills in the United States were steam-powered.  During that time, roller mills had begun grinding pigment (aside from grain). This development enabled the mass production of commercial paints. Linseed oil, a cheap binding agent, made paint production even easier.

Lead House Paint

Lead used to be added in paints because it made them more durable. However, lead-based paints were also toxic and resulted in considerable health risks. When houses were covered with lead-infused paint, it was easy to breathe in the poisonous fumes. This could and did result in lead poisoning and allergies.

However, it was not until 1978 that the United States finally banned lead paint from being sold in the market. This was a long-overdue step, but it did lead to a safer house painting experience for most people in the United States. The ban included the use of lead-based paints as well as their sale.

Before the addition of lead, water and oil were the primary bases for house paint. This was the usual practice from the 17th to the 19th century.

Lead-based paints used to be popular because of its durability, but were also notorious for being toxic. It wasn’t until 1978 that the US finally prohibited the use and sale of lead-based paints.

A Paint Titan

Sherwin Williams Paint

In 1866, the future titan of the paint business was born. This was the Sherwin Williams Paint Company, which is now an American Fortune 500 company.

The venture was founded by businessmen Henry Sherwin and Edward Williams in Cleveland, Ohio. Sherwin was also the one who developed tin cans that would allow consumers to reseal the paint. We’re all familiar with this canned packaging today, as it’s considered the norm for house paint in most of the industry.

Mimicking Wood

American culture is entwined in nature and natural materials, so it’s no wonder that many American homeowners wanted a specific look for their pain at first. Some would request the painter to make their walls look like they were made of wood. Some would also go for a marble or bronze option.

Some homeowners even asked house painters to paint their ceilings to resemble a blue sky with white clouds. Painters during that time would normally comply with these requests, which would sound fairly unusual by present-day standards.

Water-Based Paints

In the early days of the house painting industry, painters mostly used water-based paints for covering ceilings and plaster walls.

The practice of painting the ceilings and plaster walls with latex paints are still common today. Joineries, on the other hand, demanded oil-based paints for extra durability.


From grinding pigment and oil by hand to purchasing several different shades in convenient tins, we’ve certainly come a long way with house paints. Knowing more about the history of this particular aspect of our lives would help us appreciate the choices we have today.

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