The History of Spray Paint—Humble Beginnings, Worldwide Impact

Spray paint is everywhere. In fact, most of us probably have a few cans of it in our basement or garage right now. Lightweight, cheap, and easy-to-store, spray paint is the go-to product for do-it-yourselfers, crafters, and homeowners looking to give any project a smooth finish.

While spray paint may seem like it was “always around,” it actually w­asn’t invented until 1949 by a man named Ed Seymour, owner of a paint company based in Illinois. He was in search of an easy way to demonstrate his coating made specifically for radiators. His wife, Bonnie, suggested a spray gun to dispense the coating. Seymour took her advice (in fact, he credits her with the invention) and mixed paint and aerosol in a can with a spray head to create a simple prototype. Seymour quickly realized that not only was it extremely easy to apply paint this way, but it also provided a nice finish.

Capitalizing on the potential of this incredibly efficient method of dispensing paint, Seymour founded his company Seymour of Sycamore, a leading manufacturer of aerosol paints to this day. The technology Seymour perfected is simple, but ingenious: an easy-to-hold, pressurized container with a push-button valve release on the top. Within each paint can there’s a small metal ball, called a pea, which mixes the paint when the can is shaken.

This humble invention soon became indispensable to factories, auto body shops, and carpenters. Post World War II baby boomers, now new homeowners, loved the product as well and started snatching up millions of cans per year. Competitors to Seymour jumped into the lucrative spray paint business and by the mid-seventies, more than 250 million cans of spray paint were being produced annually in the United States. But that was hardly the peak of production. Last year, more than 400,000 million cans of spray paint were produced in the United States.

As the seventies gave way to the eighties, a new use for spray paint was discovered: graffiti art. Spray paint became the perfect medium for street artists in urban areas. All they needed was a can of paint and a blank wall to make art—no lessons or expensive equipment required. Originally written off as vandalism—and for sure, some of it was—spray paint art was also a way for urban youth to express themselves and create images and messages for their communities.

Graffiti art became intertwined with hip hop culture and its popularity exploded along with rap music throughout the eighties and nineties. Eventually, famous artists like Jean-Michel Basquiat and his mentor Andy Warhol would bring graffiti art and spray paint into the fine art world.

Spray paint certainly had humble beginnings, and Seymour probably never imagined that his invention would move beyond merely practical uses. But spray paint went on to become a household staple, transform entire industries, and even help create an urban subculture.

Spray Finishes, a division of Stone Services, has been in the electrostatic spray painting business since 1938. They specialize in on-site painting for both residential and commercial properties, and also have a 10,000 square foot shop for large off-site jobs. Spray Finishes’ friendly and knowledgeable staff is ready to serve you at any of their five tristate area locations, including New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Long Island, and Westchester. Contact Spray Finishes today for an estimate on your next painting project.

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