Benjamin Moore Paint, A brief history
By John Shearer January 10, 2011
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 was available until the late 1990’s.
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.