A Brief History of Benjamin Moore Paint

May 17, 2011


Benjamin Moore Paint, A brief history

By Perseus Shearer
Find a Benjamin Moore Paint Store with this interactive map
In 1883, Benjamin Moore and his brother Robert started a paint business at 55 Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn, New York. They had only a mere $2,000 to invest. The company was initially called Moore Brothers, and its first product was Calsom Finish, a wall coating. Within a year, the enterprise had made a profit. Unfortunately, in 1884, the building on Atlantic burned to the ground. Yet the brothers were back in business three days later in a new location, displaying a tenacity that would serve their company well throughout its long life. Benjamin and Robert established a New York corporation in 1889; soon after, they incorporated in New Jersey, the company’s current home.

It was only in the mid-1880s that mass production and distribution of paint began to take off. Benjamin Moore distinguished itself from competitors in various ways. For one thing, the business charged premium prices for premium paint, whose durability and high-quality pigment they considered worth the cost. In addition, the company quickly developed a reputation for creating innovative products. In 1892, the brothers unveiled Muresco, a ready-mix paint intended for walls and ceilings. Made from a recipe that included Irish moss and Pennsylvania clay, it became the best-selling calcimine paint in the U.S. during the first part of the 20th century. Muresco came in powder form; to turn it into paint, all you had to add was water. Previously, people interested in house painting had to gather the proper ingredients themselves. Eventually, Muresco came in 32 colors. More industry-changing inventions soon followed. Sani-Flat, a non-shiny, lead-free oil paint, stood up to repeated washings; Unilac, a quick-drying enamel, could replace lacquer. By 1928, Sani-Flat came in 20 colors, and the product is still used for house painting today.

Inspired by the “three Is” – intelligence, industry, and integrity – the Moores began an expansion in 1897. That year, factories opened in Chicago and Cleveland; less than a decade later, in 1906, the Canadian branch of the company was incorporated. The following year, Benjamin Moore hired its first chemist and established a research department. In 1925, the company’s logo, a letter M inside a triangle designed by L.P. Moore, made its debut. Rather than simply making and selling paint, Benjamin Moore sought to educate consumers about house painting. Early in the 1900s, the company began printing decorating brochures for customers. In 1929, a department of home decorating was added. Members of the department answered painting questions in person or by mail. From the 1930s until the ’60s, Betty Moore – a fictional character played over the years by various actresses – provided house painting tips in a series of weekly radio programs. Through World War I, the Great Depression, and World War II, Benjamin Moore managed not only to stay afloat but to grow. In the postwar era, industrial coatings that the company had developed for the war effort were adapted for house painting. (Benjamin Moore’s Technical Coatings Company, established in 1948, continued to work on industrial coatings.) Another postwar development was the rise of latex paint, which was far more eco-friendly than any previous kind of house paint, and easier to apply and clean. As usual, Benjamin Moore was committed to keeping up with industry trends, and the company is now recognized as a leader in environmental awareness. For Benjamin Moore, the mid- to late 20th century was a time of tireless innovation.

The company rolled out Regal Wall Satin, an easy-to-apply latex paint, in 1957. In 1972, Regal Aqua Velvet arrived, boasting a low-gloss eggshell finish that stood up to scrubbing. Four years later, in conjunction with the National Park Service, Benjamin Moore released its Historic Colors Collection, based on NPS archives of historic homes. The company took an even bigger step forward in 1982, when its Computer Color Matching System became operational. Consisting of a spectrophotometer and a minicomputer, the CCMS made it possible to match any sample, not just Benjamin Moore’s own color chips. While we take computer color matching for granted today, this technological advance shook up the paint industry when it first appeared. Into the 1990s, Benjamin Moore sold its house paint only through certified dealers. The organization has long been known for keeping the specifics of its business operations closely guarded. At the same time, Benjamin Moore has repeatedly shown itself to be an early adopter when it comes to both cutting-edge technology and environmental sensitivity.

Today, the 128-year-old company is one of the largest paint makers in North America, with seven plants, 22 distribution facilities, and roughly 4,000 independent retailers in its network. Some of Benjamin Moore’s most recent developments have been among the most dramatic in its history. In 1999, the company released EcoSpec, a house paint made without volatile organic compounds (VOCs) or solvents, and thus less harmful to both the planet and consumers. In the subsequent decade, VOCs emerged as a major issue for the paint industry. Learn more about Low VOC Paint. As had happened so often before, Benjamin Moore found itself ahead of the curve. The following year, Berkshire Hathaway, a company led by billionaire Warren Buffett, acquired Benjamin Moore. Yet the paint manufacturer’s research continued undisturbed. Benjamin Moore’s Regal Matte paint, distinguished by a stain-release resin and the ability to tolerate unprecedented amounts of scrubbing, became available in 2003. The latest new product, Aura interior paint, features Color Lock Technology: pigment embedded in the paint’s binder molecules, rather than loosely attached to them. Benjamin Moore advertises Aura as a low-odor, low-VOC, quick-drying paint that’s highly resistant to both water and everyday friction. Not including the infinite variety of shades its computers can create, Benjamin Moore has given the world more than 3,300 colors of paint. While the company is still known for a high-quality product in rich, vibrant hues, it never seems to rest on its laurels. Research continues in labs devoted to latex coatings, polymers, color technology, and many more areas. From its humble roots in 19th-century Brooklyn, Benjamin Moore has grown into an international power in the paint business.


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