Benjamin and Robert Moore began their paint shop on Brooklyn’s Atlantic Avenue in 1883. In terms of capital, all they had was $2,000. They called the business Moore Brothers, and the first thing it produced was a wall coating called Calsom Finish. By 1884, the fledgling company had already made a profit. That same year, however, a fire destroyed the Moore Brothers building. Amazingly, Benjamin and Robert were selling paint again, from a new venue, three days later. This wouldn’t be the last time that the brothers, or their company, would demonstrate such resilience.
The Moores incorporated their operation in New York in 1889; not long thereafter, they moved it to New Jersey, where Benjamin Moore’s headquarters still reside. Benjamin and Robert had gotten into the paint business during a boom time for the industry. The mass production and distribution of paint became increasingly common during the 1880s, so Benjamin Moore had to set itself apart from its rivals. The brothers achieved this in part by touting the premium quality of their product, and charging premium prices for it. As they soon discovered, consumers were willing, and even eager, to pay top dollar for extremely durable paint made with high-caliber pigment.
Benjamin Moore was known almost from the start for its innovations. The company’s first game-changing product was Muresco, a ready-mix paint first sold in 1892. Its ingredients included Irish moss and Pennsylvania clay, and it quickly became the dominant calcimine paint in the U.S. Muresco was a powder that had to be combined with water, but it was far more convenient than painstakingly following a paint recipe. The marvel of Muresco was that it was all there, right in the mix. During its reign, more than 30 colors of Muresco were produced.
The company hardly rested on its laurels. Sani-Flat, a matte oil paint made without lead that could withstand multiple washings, was Benjamin Moore’s next advance in paint technology. By the late 1920s, Sani-Flat came in 20 colors, and it’s still available today. Unilac soon followed; it was a kind of enamel that dried rapidly and could replace lacquer.
Benjamin Moore began expanding in 1897, when factories started up in Chicago and Cleveland. Nine years later, the company incorporated a branch in Canada. In addition to building new facilities, Benjamin Moore hired a chemist and created a research department. In 1925, a member of the Moore family designed the logo – an “M” inside a triangle – that still represents the business today.
Benjamin Moore didn’t just manufacture paint and sell it; the company also tried to inform its customers. Around the turn of the 19th century, Benjamin Moore produced leaflets on home decorating, and in 1929, it established a decorating department. Consumers could write letters or show up in person to pick the brains of the decorating staff. Another of the company’s diplomats was highly influential despite not being real. Betty Moore, intended as painting’s answer to Betty Crocker, was portrayed by an assortment of actresses between the 1930s and ’60s. Her primary function: dispensing house-painting advice on a radio show that aired each week.
Benjamin Moore’s business didn’t suffer as much as many other companies’ during World War I, the Great Depression, and World War II. After the latter war, Benjamin Moore produced a civilian-friendly equivalent to its military-grade industrial coatings. (From 1948 on, military coatings were the responsibility of the Technical Coatings Company, a division of Benjamin Moore.) Latex paint became quite popular after the war as well, since it was both easier to use and less difficult to clean, as well as being kinder to the planet. A company long lauded for its forward-thinking products, Benjamin Moore was now heralded for its progressive approach to the environment.
During the second half of the 20th century, the company turned out one innovative paint after another. First came Regal Wall Satin, in 1957, a latex paint with one big selling point: It was very, very easy to apply. Fifteen years later, Regal Aqua Velvet shook things up again; its eggshell finish was low gloss but extremely resistant to scrubbing, which made it highly washable. In 1976, to celebrate America’s 200th birthday, Benjamin Moore and the National Park Service put out the Historic Colors Collection, which drew inspiration from NPS archives of historic homes.
Even the aforementioned advances were nothing compared to Benjamin Moore’s Computer Color Matching System. Unveiled in 1982 – the same year Tron came out! – this unprecedented tool married a spectrophotometer and a minicomputer and could match any color. It’s hard for us, in the computer-happy 21st century, to fathom the significance of this invention. In the early 1980s, the CCMS made a very big splash.
Benjamin Moore’s business model has been, in many ways, as novel as its many products. Into the 1990s, only certified dealers could sell Benjamin Moore paint. The company’s inner workings are not highly publicized, but Benjamin Moore continues to uphold its reputation for technological savvy and eco-consciousness. The company currently owns seven plants and 22 distribution sites, and it has created a network of approximately 4,000 independent retailers. It’s one of the biggest paint manufacturers in North America.
Where innovation is concerned, the hits just keep on coming. Benjamin Moore was ahead of the curve when, in 1999, it developed EcoSpec, a paint free of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), toxic substances that can damage both human physiology and Earth’s ecology. Soon enough, VOCs became the trendy new environmental villain – the high-fructose corn syrup of the paint world – and Benjamin Moore watched other companies try to catch up.
Benjamin Moore has a free iphone app for paint color matching
In 2000, Warren Buffett’s company Berkshire Hathaway bought Benjamin Moore. The deal made headlines in the business pages, but little at the paint company has changed in the last decade. The year 2003 brought Regal Matte, a paint made with stain-release resin that became Benjamin Moore’s most scrubbable product yet. Even more recently, the company debuted Aura, whose pigment resides within the paint’s binder molecules rather than clingingly loosely to them. (Benjamin Moore refers to this as Color Lock Technology.) Aura is low in odor and VOCs, dries rapidly, and resists water and day-to-day friction exceedingly well.
The world can thank Benjamin Moore for more than 3,300 colors of high-quality paint. The company’s labs push tirelessly on, doing work in the areas of latex coatings, polymers, and color technology, to name just a few. Benjamin Moore may have started in a modest, short-lived Brooklyn building, but in the intervening 128 years it’s become a force to be reckoned with in the paint industry.