There are three reasons we see so many red American barns. It’s traditional, it’s practical, and the color looks great.
While a primary reason for painting wooden buildings is for appearance, paint also protects the wood so it will last longer.
During the 18th and early 19th centuries, barns on family farms in the northeastern United States were typically covered with thick vertical planks. If left unpainted, the boards slowly weathered to a brownish-gray color.
To improve the efficiency of their barns by reducing drafts so that their animals would be more comfortable in winter, many farmers stretched their barns from the mid-19th century onwards. These shingles were sawn quite thin, so painting provided the necessary protection and beautification Appearance of the barns.
In the 1800s, it was common for people to make their own colors by mixing pigments with linseed oil made from flaxseed and other ingredients. Pigments are dry materials that add color. They were available in a variety of hues, but the tint we so often see on older American barns was called Venetian red.
According to the 1884 edition of “Everyone’s coloring bookâBy FB Gardner, Venetian red wasâ suitable for all common work or for masonry and outbuildings â. This red pigment penetrated the wooden barn boards well and did not fade when exposed to sunlight, allowing it to age gracefully for generations.
Venetian red gets its name because in the past this pigment was made from natural clays found near Venice, Italy. The clays contained an iron oxide compound that produced this red color.
Since similar iron oxide deposits were found in many other places, âVenetian redâ became a generic term for light red pigments that did not have a purple tinge. In the 1920s, such “earth pigments,” which were used to make red paint, were dug in Georgia, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Alabama, California, Iowa, and Vermont.
In the late 1800s, in addition to red, it became fashionable to paint barns with other color schemes, especially those that complement the architectural style and finishes of the owners’ homes. This included various shades of yellow, green, and brown. Barns and houses were also often painted white.
But red color remained popular on many farms because it was the cheapest. In 1922 the Sears, Roebuck Catalog offered barn red paint for just $ 1.43 per gallon, while other house paints sold for at least $ 2.25 per gallon – almost twice as much.
Today, many modern barns do not resemble classic versions. Very large barns with hundreds of cows or pigs look more like hangars or warehouses and can be built of metal. But the tradition of painting smaller barns red continues – so strong that the U.S. Post is now continuing to celebrate it Postage stamps.
Written by Thomas Durant Visser, Professor of Monument Preservation, University of Vermont.
This article was first published in The conversation.