Paint is all around us - on the surfaces of skyscrapers and towering edifices in metropolitan cities to small huts in rural peripheries. Yet, like a wallflower at a gathering, this commodity is glanced over and routinely ignored by the passing eye, quietly but surely existing in the recesses of human existence and progress. Paint, like its forms and methods of production, are diverse in its uses and applications - it can confer basic colour and aesthetic value onto a surface as well as a wide range of unique properties such as UV protection. This article will serve to delineate briefly the history of paint from its birth and early uses to its modern utilization in both industrial and residential markets.
The first form of paint appeared about 30,000 years ago when cavemen used underdeveloped paints to illustrate murals of their lives on the walls of their cave homes. These paints were mainly made of substances found naturally such as earth pigments and iron oxides. The Chinese then revolutionized the creation and use of paint during Ancient Times, accompanied by the Egyptians who created the first binder from ground blue glass in 3,000BC. The Egyptians considered coloured paint as sacred and were designated as having magical and healing properties.
After paint-making becomes an integral part of Greek economy, Greek philosopher Plato chances upon the discovery that mixing two colours of paint creates a third, stimulating the production of a multitude of coloured paints. The Chinese, Hebrews, Greeks and Romans also begin to incorporate a variety of chemicals such as oils, ochres and beeswax as varnishes, pigments and binders respectively.
During the Middle Ages, paint was largely used to coat wood of store fronts and signs, finding no significant role in domestic and industrial use. It was around this time that artists began to include drying oils into paint manufacturing recipes in order to speed up evaporation, concomitantly adopting linseed oil as a new solvent which found primary use until the twentieth century during which synthetics were formulated.
While being largely neglected for a period of time, the paint and coatings market only came into light as an integral component of the American national economy during the Industrial Revolution that began in the 1760s. At that time, Thomas Child reportedly established the first paint mill in Boston. Ohio businessman D.R. Averill then patented the first "ready-mixed" paints in the United States in 1867, an innovation that changed the market to a large degree since consumers only purchased pigments and blended the paints themselves prior to its introduction. It was also the period during which the first water-based paint, patented by D.P. Flinn, was introduced into the market.
The paint and coatings market then experienced exponential growth in both market size and innovative ventures. The Sherwin-Williams Company, one of the largest and most successful paint manufacturers even today, formulated a revolutionary method for suspending particles of linseed oil, allowing its paint quality to surpass its competitors. The mid-1880s was occupied with mechanization, resulting in a new wave of entrepreneurs and paint companies springing up all over the country. With the introduction of new synthetic vehicles from polyurethane and styrene-butadene, the aerosol can for spray paint and the Pantone Matching System, synthetic pigments and stabilizers today are utilized to mass-produce huge volumes of paint.
The history of paint is laden with innovation and experimentation. Even within the earliest forms of civilization lay thinkers, entrepreneurs, doers' individuals dedicated to challenging the status quo and to constantly be on the lookout for novel methods and solutions. It is from this brief history of the paint and coatings market and its players that we can derive humble but enriching life lessons, most importantly that one should never tell himself he is good enough. Complacency is the nemesis of success and one should always strive to achieve something greater in his or her life. While this article does not fully do the pioneers of the industry due justice, we should adopt these ideas into our daily lives and grow as an asset for the betterment of ourselves and those around us.
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Written by Jonathan Quah.