Who hasn’t seen a red barn before? They’re traditional, they stand out, and the color is practical.
But there’s history as to how the red evolved on barns. Back in the 1700s, in the northeast part of the country, farmers covered them with thick vertical boards, allowing them to weather gray over time.
Later, in the mid-1800s, farmers went horizontal with the boards to close up drafts and improve warmth and efficiency for their animals. These horizontal boards, clapboards as we know them, were sawed thin. Because of their thinness, they needed paint for protection to lengthen their longevity, in addition to improving their appearance.
During that time, people mixed their own paint with a pigment combination of linseed oil, flax seeds, and other ingredients. Pigment, of course, adds color, and the favorite of the time was called “Venetian Red,” so called because the pigment was made from natural clays found near Venice, Italy, and contained an iron oxide compound that made the red color.
This red pigment penetrated well into barn boards, resisted fading in the sun, and aged well for generations. Although later in the 1800s, farmers turned to other colors of paint like yellows, greens, browns, and of course white, red remained popular, mainly because it was so affordable.
In my copy of the 1927 Sears Roebuck catalogue, a 5 gallon can of red barn paint was $1.30/gallon.
They offered 35 other colors of paint in 5 gallon cans for $2.20/gallon.
You can see the savings, and who could blame a farmer? He’d save almost twice as much going with the traditional barn red.
Fast forward to today, barns have gotten quite large. Large enough to hold hundreds of cows, chickens, or pigs, in fact. That large, they can come pre-fabricated, built out of metal and resemble warehouses or even an airplane hangar, and thank goodness, no one would have to paint one of those, right?
Still, the traditional red barn endures for smaller structures and remain so beloved the US Postal Service celebrated them on postage stamps.
Driving down the interstate or highway, you might see a big American flag on a barn’s roof. Or a political candidate’s name. These quilt barns are especially popular!
What is the most unusually painted barn you’ve seen?
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