Friday, August 3, 2012

WHY ARE AMERICAN BARNS RED

Red American Barn
There may not be anything more iconic to farm life than an American barn .

Yesterday, commenter MARIA asked why are so many American barns red?  That got me to thinking, yes, why ARE they red?  Great question.  So I did a little online research and found that there is a fairly simple explanation for it.  

When farms first started springing up across this country in the 1700's, they were rarely painted.  Even homes were not painted and the wood was just left natural.  Seeing as how paint was rare at the time, not to mention expensive, it would be considered decadent and even obscene to "waste" money on painting.   However, wood left to it's own devices would, eventually, require replacement.  Finding a means of painting them with something that would coat and protect became the goal.  Ever resourceful farmers began mixing their own concoction, using skim milk and lime.  Then they added linseed oil, which is a red/orange color, as a sealant for the wood.  Lastly, they added "ferrous oxide", or "rust" to the mixture.  Seems there was always plenty of rust laying around on a farm in the form of old tools, implements, etc.  Ferrous oxide was good at keeping away the mold and fungus that would often grow on the buildings.  It's most likely that this "home brew" paint recipe was brought over by settlers from overseas.  So apparently, instead of shooting for red color on purpose, it's just what became the norm, coming out of necessity and the fact that this combination is what actually worked rather than aesthetics and decor.

As mass produced paints became more commonplace in the late 1800's, red was still the cheapest pigment to add to paint so once again, red was popular for a reason other than just looks.  It was also believed that this color was easiest to use when painting over or touching up barns that were already red from the previous homemade paint.

From there, red barns, in varying shades of red of course, became more of a tradition and a link to our past rather than serving any real practical purpose.  Original "barn red" was probably closer to a reddish orange or reddish rust as opposed to the fire engine red you often see in more recent use.  Still, it's neat to see that even today, people are using red on their farms and buildings and perhaps don't even realize how much of a link it has to our past.

Hope you enjoyed this random bit of trivia, especially our foreign visitors who may not have known about this little part of American history.

Another Red American Barn

22 comments:

  1. Thank you for this great information! My house is red, like a barn and it is because I always wanted a red house like many of the old colonial New England houses. Probably red for the same reasons that the barns were.

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    1. You know we have toyed with the idea of painting the farmhouse barn red as well. It's currently all white. We had thought about white with red trim around windows and doors. But I'm rethinking that and we're considering red. We can't paint the exterior until the weather cools down but that is coming in a few months and we need to decide. I like that.

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  2. I did enjoy that "random bit of trivia." Thank you. There is still an old house here that has never been painted. It belonged to my great-uncle before his death, and the story was that he had built it and had taken the wood from an old someplace. Those planks must be 100 years old, and the wood has aged to beautiful silver gray. If I could have created that on my own house, I certainly would have. Wood like that is no longer available.

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    1. That's a great story about your great uncle's house. That old wood is just awesome. I would think, like you said, once it weathers and ages, it sort of stabilizes and just lasts and lasts. They don't grow wood like that anymore, that's for sure.

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  3. thanks for that my man!
    you learn something new everyday don't you.....
    I would LOVE a barn like the first one, but it would be three ties the size of our cottage

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    1. You are quite welcome. It is kind of cool to learn about something that you see all the time but never think about the story behind it. That's what I love about reading on your blog, your village has some great history that I can learn about.

      Ditto on the barn, I think three or four of our farmhouses would fit inside, ha.

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  4. Good bit of info! I love useless information like that! Thanks guys

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    1. Thanks for stopping by, I just signed up to follow your blog. I'm going to get caught up on it. Thanks again, I'll find some occasional useless info on occasion, I love it too! :-)

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  5. it was brought to america by scandinavian settlers. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Falu_red

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  6. Barns are precious to the US and we need to save more of them. The Irsh have their castles and the French have their villas, we need our barns to be cherished and cared for! Love the trivia. Keep it up. Now I'm heading out to our big red barn

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    1. I never thought about it from the perspective, I love that. Castles, villas, etc, and we have the iconic barn.

      YOU have a big red barn? TOTALLY jealous!!! ;-)

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  7. Interesting bit of trivia. They do look beautiful.

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    1. Our great big old barns (especially in the NE part of our country) are just gorgeous. Some amazing craftsmanship. Along with some fun trivia, ha.

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  8. Man, I love me some barns. Thanks for the information.

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    1. You are quite welcome and yes, I love barns too!

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  9. I discovered why they SHOULD always be red a couple of years ago. On our farm the house is white, and the outbuildings Lake Tahoe brown with a green metal roof. I had gathered some alpacas from the far fields and was leading them to the barn when in a rare but blinding snowstorm, I could not SEE the barn. Eventually the storm stopped and I could see better, but on a large tract of land it is very easy to become confused as to direction, as both a human and an animal during a snowstorm with dense or blowing snow.

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    1. Wow, that's an interesting thought. And up North, and East, where they are almost always red, they do have very heavy winters at times. Very interesting!! Glad you made it through the storm too! I bet a red barn in a white snow would stand out. not to mention probably be beautiful! Thanks!

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  10. very interesting! funny, i was just wondering the same thing yesterday after my neighbors painted their barn-like shed a pretty shade of red. i love red barns! great photos. thanks for sharing! xo

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    1. That was great timing huh? I bet you could tell THEM now why they chose red, even though they probably chose it because it was 'pretty' or 'classic'. Little do they know, it was decided for them over a hundred years ago, LOL! Thanks for the comment!

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