MISSION: To visit every state and territory in the U.S. For my mission a visit is greater than a stop over; I wish to explore the natural and cultural environments of these areas. Each of these locations has a story to tell, and I want to find it.

As of February 2018 I have visited all 50 states (and Puerto Rico and 2 island in the US Virgin Islands) at least once.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Searching for the Meaning of the Red Barn

I am back from my trip through America's dairy land.  And, while I must sit down, go through my pictures and sort through the souvenirs, I have really been pondering a common site that I passed in Wisconsin and Iowa - the big red barn.  Sure, it is the iconic image of the American farm.  The rolling green land waving in the breeze with a field of animals nearby and that Big Red Barn in the background.  I really thought that was pure imagery.  I have been through plenty of farmland - Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Missouri, Pennsylvania... heck, I grew up in New Jersey and yes, there is plenty there too.  But I really never took that iconic red barn in like I did this trip.  It seemed like every direction I looked, I was staring out at the red barn.  That left me wondering - why red?

Home now, I have time to look into this.  My first instincts was that red was a purposeful color choice.  I would have guessed that red was a color that was good for cows (because there sure were plenty of those in dairy land).  My second guess would have  been that red stands out well in the land of green and when you are out on endless acres of farmland, you just look for the red to head back.  But what do I know?  Well, I don't know squat about red barns... because after a bit of digging, I have found 2 main schools of thought on the choice of color (and one more in depth analysis):

  1. The Historic Choice - (a) The area was heavily settled by Scandinavians, Germans and Irish.  Apparently the Scandinavians had preference for red farmhouses and barns (the famous Falu farg red paint, from Sweden's massive copper mine)... (b) The "barn red" is not the bright, fire-engine red that we often see today, but more of a burnt-orange red. As to how the oil mixture became traditionally red, there are two predominant theories:
    • Wealthy farmers added blood from a recent slaughter to the oil mixture. As the paint dried, it turned from a bright red to a darker, burnt red.
    • Farmers added ferrous oxide, otherwise known as rust, to the oil mixture. Rust was plentiful on farms and is a poison to many fungi, including mold and moss, which were known to grown on barns. These fungi would trap moisture in the wood, increasing decay.
    Regardless of how the farmer tinted his paint, having a red barn became a fashionable thing. They were a sharp contrast to the traditional white farmhouse.
  2. The Economic Choice - Red Paint is Cheap!!!  According to some, One of the biggest reasons for red pigment being cheaper is because it spreads much thinner and still produces an opaque coating. The pigment in paint, if opaque,  serves to absorb ultraviolet light thereby vastly extending the life of the coating. Red pigment, whatever it is always has the most opacity of any color. Equalling cheap in two different ways. Cheap to buy (just dirt) and cheap to use (goes a long way) bonus; paint lasts longer.
  3. The Scientific Choice - Red Paint is Cheap!!   What makes a cheap pigment? Obviously, that it’s plentiful. The red pigment that makes cheap paint is red ochre, which is just iron and oxygen. These are incredibly plentiful: the Earth’s crust is 6% iron and 30% oxygen. Oxygen is plentiful and affects the color of compounds it’s in by shaping them, but the real color is determined by the d-electrons of whatever attaches to it: red comes from iron.  (like blues and greens from copper, a beautiful deep blue from cobalt).
I feel better now... even though I don't think we need blood in our paint mix, and last time I check all paint costs the same now... I am still stuck on why red persists today, except to guess that it is tradition and it looks striking.  Somehow I do not think that a big yellow barn would make the same statement.

(and thank you to howstuffworks.com, the farmers almanac, the Smithsonian and boingboing.net for help in me solving this pretty mystery).

No comments:

Post a Comment