Ever Notice Most Barns That You See Are Painted Red? There’s Actually a Reason for It

Barns. You’ve seen them. Ever notice that many of them are red?

Image Credit: Rick Diamond/Staff/Getty Images

It’s not because red looks great against a blue sky and white clouds.

Image Credit: Rick Diamond/Staff/Getty Images

Image Credit: Rick Diamond/Staff/Getty Images

Or so a farmer’s cows can find their way home (cows can’t see red or green):

Image Credit: Sean Gallup/Staff/Getty Images– ‘Hey, how’d you get in here?’

And it’s not because American farmers copied Scandinavian farmers to make their barns look like brick, a sign of wealth, as LiveScience writes

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

American farmers didn’t even paint their barns until the late 1700s, and when they DID start painting it was for several reasons:

1. According to Farmer’s Almanac, early farmers didn’t have access to paint or sealants to protect the wood. They had to become resourceful, using linseed oil—an orange-colored oil—and a mixture of other available items:

“To this oil, they would add a variety of things, most often milk and lime, but also ferrous oxide, or rust. Rust was plentiful on farms and because it killed fungi and mosses that might grow on barns, and it was very effective as a sealant. It turned the mixture red in color.”

2. Farmers then noticed that because of the mixture’s darker color, it kept the barns warmer in the winter by absorbing the sun,LiveScience adds. It was more functional to paint a barn red than to leave the wood plain.

Image Credit: Flickr CC/dhendrix73

When paint became more readily available, farmers kept painting barns red out of tradition.

Smithsonian Magazine makes an interesting point about this, and how the use of red paint is a nod to the early American farmer’s resourcefulness and frugality:

3. Red paint is the cheapest paint there is. According to the magazine, a man named Yonatan Zunger recently explained that there is a cosmological reason for this. One of the main points is that the compound that makes paint red (iron and oxygen) is plentiful.

Image Credit:FLickr CC/Rob Shenk

So the next time you pass by one of these icons of American tradition, ask someone: “Ever know why barns are always painted red?”