If you asked anyone what color a barn is, most people would answer red, because,in truth, nearly every single barn is (or was) painted red. The red barn is practically a staple image of American history. While the color is certainly striking, red was not chosen for design aesthetics or to lure lost cows home (cows are actually red/green color blind, according to Live Science).
In truth, farmers chose red for the barns because it was cheaper. In fact, prior to the 1700s, barns weren’t painted at all because new property owners simply couldn’t afford it. But, by the late 1700s, farmers started making their own paint in an attempt to protect their barns from the elements, according to Live Science.
The most popular components of this homemade paint included skimmed milk, lime, and red iron oxide. The mixture was cheap, easy to make and introduced the first reddish-colored barns. In addition, the red paint absorbed more sunlight so it kept the barns warmer.
The Smithsonian reports that the color of barns may have been written in the stars … literally. Red Ochre, an iron and oxygen compound is used in paints to absorb yellow, green and blue. This makes the paint appear red. This particular compound is cheap because it’s plentiful as a result of dying stars. The explosion of stars creates iron, which as noted above, is what makes paint red.
The red barn is another symbol of the simplicity and practicality of life in the 1800s and early 1900s. With towns and cities boasting homes of every color, it’s a bit eye-opening to look back at a time when color was chosen for function instead of cosmetics.
As an added note, if you need to repaint an area in your home on a budget, choosing red paint may be your most cost-effective option.