Although paints and coatings were only manufactured on a wider scale from the early 18th century, mankind has used them for tens of thousands of years. In 2011, archaeologists in South Africa discovered an ochre-based mixture which may have been used as paint; it was estimated to be approximately 100,000 years old! It is also believed that Homo sapiens used red/yellow ochre and charcoal to create cave paintings some 40,000 years ago. In ancient Egypt, colored walls at Dendera still display a brilliant color despite being painted more than 2,000 years ago.

18th-20th Century

Thomas Child is accredited with operating one of the first paint mills in America in the early 18th century with his mill in Boston. Over in England, Marshall Smith invented a machine for the ‘Grinding of Colors’ in 1718. The machine increased the speed and efficiency of pigment grinding though no one was sure how it actually worked!

By the time of the Industrial Revolution, steam-powered mills were being used to grind paint and interior house painting became more commonplace by the 19th century. One of the primary reasons for house painting was to protect material against damp. Sherwin-Williams opened as a large paint-maker in the United States and in 1866, the company created a paint that could be used from the tin without preparation.

The Modern Era

Artificial resins, also known as alkyds, were not invented until World War II caused a shortage of linseed oil in the supply markets. It was found that alkyds were cheap, easy to make and lasted a long time. The 1940s and 1950s was a big era for the paint and coatings industry as vinyl paint, water-based paints and powder coatings were developed.

By the 1960s, improved curing agents had been developed and a high solids count also ensured that epoxy coatings became easier to apply and also of a better standard than ever before. Self-curing zinc coatings meant that the post-cure step was no longer necessary. The industry was tested in the 1970s when a host of new regulations came into effect in a bid to improve the standard of paints and coatings once again. The Clean Air Act and California Rule 66 ensured that manufacturers had to reformulate their coatings to guarantee they had a lower organic solvent content.

Overseas manufacturers made life difficult for American companies in the 1980s, while acid rain pollution posed a different kind of threat. Now, companies had to create paints and coatings that could survive against these dangerous weather conditions. Electrodeposition primers were developed to reduce body corrosion.

Paint technologies were again forced to move forward in the 1980s and 90s due to new restrictions for volatile organic compounds and hazardous air pollutants. In the current age, radiation-cured coatings are popular since they require virtually no solvent, provide better quality and cure almost immediately. This form of coating uses UV light to cure instead of heat.

Today, paints and coatings can be seen everywhere from football fields to laboratories. It is an industry that has faced many challenges but thrived as well as improving its products to suit the unique demands of today’s customers and environment.