Even before there were cars on the road, a number of people created products, provided services or simply had inauspicious beginnings that, although may have seemed trivial at the time, had a profound and lasting effect on the industry.
Even back then, they would influence the way the auto industry in general, and the collision repair industry in particular, works.
Escaping the French revolution and leaving their printing business behind them, on Jan. 1, 1800, Pierre and his son Eleuthere Irenee (E.I.) arrived in America after a grueling 90-day voyage. Father and son eventually found their way to Bergen, NJ. Pierre wanted to engage in the elaborate scheme of international trade. E.I. took a more practical approach---the manufacture of gunpowder, something he was already familiar with and with which he was quite proficient. The chemistry and manufacture of gunpowder would lead to a multitude of products, not the least of which was paint---DuPont Refinish paint over 100 years later, thanks to the foresight of Pierre Samuel du Pont de Nemours and his son, E.I du Pont de Nemours.
And then there was Henry, born Sept. 27, 1842. He would later be described in his company’s history as being “self-taught and self-propelled” and an “entrepreneur and inventor.” His formal education in his hometown of Baltimore, VT, ended at the young age of 13 when he began work in a general store. From there, he became a photographer and then moved to Cleveland, OH, where he became a clerk then a bookkeeper for Freeman & Kellogg dry goods. He then became a partner in the George Sprague Company, purveyors of groceries, and managed to save $2,000---quite a hefty sum in the mid-1860’s. The grocery business obviously gave young Henry a good income, but he wanted something more. Opportunities with a wholesale drug company, a bank and a wholesale paint company then presented themselves. Henry chose the paint company, not because it offered the most money initially, but because he thought it “gave the promise of a future greater than others.” Truer words were never spoken.
Henry bought into and became a partner with Truman Dunham & Co., purveyors of paint ingredients. He learned all he could about the paint business, endeavoring to “bring a fine sense of order” to it. The partnership did not last long. By 1869, Henry discovered that his partners were more interested in producing linseed oil and he was more interested in paint. In 1870, Truman Dunham & Co. faded into history.
Henry had a pal named Edward, born May 10, 1843 in Cleveland, OH. Edward attended Cleveland High School, graduating in 1859, and then went on to earn degrees at Hudson College. He also found time to serve in the 85th Volunteer Infantry of Ohio during the Civil War. On Feb. 3, 1870, Henry Sherwin and his pal Edward Williams decided to pool their resources, including $15,000 of Edward’s own money and Henry’s knowledge of paint, to start their own company, naming it after themselves---the Sherwin-Williams Company.
But it wasn’t enough for early pioneers to create a quality paint for factory-finishing and refinishing cars. Factories and “shop men” had to have a way to get the paint onto the vehicle. Prior to 1926, automotive paint was applied with a brush in multiple coats with a lot of drying time in between; an extremely laborious and time-consuming job. There had to be a better way.
In 1887, a maintenance supervisor for the Boston-based Marshall Field’s department stores was charged with painting the store’s basement walls white---miles and miles of basement walls on several different levels in several different stores. Painting by hand would take large crews weeks to accomplish. Seeking a faster way, the maintenance supervisor developed a spray apparatus with paint in a bucket pressurized by a hand pump. The paint sprayed out through a wand mechanism with a nozzle, not unlike a device used to spray weed killer today. It was a success. He would later go on to use his paint sprayer to paint many of the buildings at the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago. The Exposition, on the scale of a world’s fair, was known as the Great White City, thanks in no small part to the maintenance supervisor’s invention. In 1919, he developed his first air-powered spray gun as we know them today, and by 1926, the DuPont Company produced a spray-able lacquer called Duco, suitable for automotive refinishing. That maintenance supervisor’s name was Joseph Binks.