History

Did Red Barns Originate by Farmers Adding Fresh Blood to the Paint?

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Barns. Drive around rural Texas and you will see barns scattered around. Old, new, metal, and wood. Often these structures are red. Is this what you imagined reading the first few sentences? We wondered why the stereotypical barn is painted red, and here’s what we found out about red barns.

According to several sites, painting barns had a practical purpose. First documented in Europe in the late 1700s, the sealing process for barns was typically with linseed oil, used by farmers to preserve the wood. This oil often contained additions like skimmed milk and lime which rapidly dried and hardened, then lasted a long while. The color of the mixture, however, was not red.

Did Red Barns Originate by Farmers Adding Fresh Blood to the Paint?

Photo: @JulieK via Twenty20

The painted substance’s journey to red is not known for sure. However, some theories do exist. What is known is the most common color was more of a rusty red, rather than a bright red color. One theory of the red rule ties to farmer-use of ferrous oxide (rust) as a way to control decay-producing moss and mold in dark and damp barns. Another theory is more prosperous agriculturalists enjoyed an abundance of animals on their land and added blood from slaughters to the preserving oil mixture. A final guess is the desire to create the illusion of red brick, a building material of which only the wealthy could afford.

Did Red Barns Originate by Farmers Adding Fresh Blood to the Paint?

Photo: @brockw20 via Twenty20

No matter how red barns became popular, the look spread across the world via European immigrants. This pattern perpetuated through the mid- to late 1800s, as paints became commercially produced and red was with the least expensive. The warming effects of a dark-colored building was also a coincidental benefit. Today, those looking for a true red barn have the advantage of precision. The traditional color of “barn red” is RYB color model 48.63% red, 3.92% yellow, and 0.78% blue. And yes, painting this red, then the Texas flag over it does count as true patriotism!