New England’s early years were not colorless. Yes, the earliest homes often remained unpainted since early homeowners didn’t have much extra money to spend on paint. But by the late 1700s, homeowners were looking to shield the exterior wood siding from the elements and thus began experimenting with minerals for ways to make their own protective paint.
Ready-made paint wasn’t available so people mixed their own. It is said that a recipe consisting of skimmed milk, lime, and red iron oxide created a rusty-colored plastic-like coating that hardened quickly and lasted for years. Iron oxide, the compound that lends to natural red clay, was easily obtained from soil. Linseed oil was subsequently added to the recipe to seal bare wood against rotting. It was also discovered that the red color made for a warmer home in winter since it absorbed the sun’s rays.
Thus American “barn red” was born. Red paint came into being through function and utility, and spread in popularity becoming an American tradition that continues to this day.