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Painters and Paperhangers


The history of the skilled American house painter's occupation began in the 18th century, when American colonists made their own paints for their homes. There were few people in the business of manufacturing paint in the colonies, and it was unusual to order materials from other countries because the shipping and transport industries were not as sophisticated as they are today.

Instead, builders and owners depended on local products for making paint. Milk, for example, was often used as a base. Soil from land that had traces of iron was burned to make paint with a red pigment, or colored tint. Material called lampblack, which is black soot, was also used to make pigmented paint. In 1867, manufacturers made available the first prepared paints. After this, machines were invented to enable manufacturers to produce paint in large amounts.

Paperhanging as an occupation probably began around the 16th century. Although the Chinese invented decorative paper, it was the Europeans who first used it to cover walls. Wealthy homeowners often decorated their walls with tapestries and velvet hangings (which was often done for warmth as well as decoration); those who could not afford such luxuries would imitate the rich by hanging inexpensive, yet decorative, wallpaper in their homes.

Paperhangers and painters were in great demand as building construction developed on a large scale in the early part of the 20th century. Since the mid-20th century, there have been great advancements in the materials and techniques used by these skilled trades workers.

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