Driving along the countryside anywhere in New England and coming across a bright, red, beautiful barn is enough to make you want to pull over and grab a photo of quintessential Americana. We don't even have to be in that rural of an area to see some of these barns along the highways.

If I had a barn, I'd want it to be fire engine red, too, because that feels and looks so traditional.

However, those beautiful, bright red barns we see aren't the true, original red, because it wasn't simply red paint when paint didn't exist yet. If you want to be specific, burnt orange red is actually the real red, according to How Stuff Works.

You see, European farmers would seal the wood on their barns with a brownish-orange oil that came from the seed of the flax plant. This tawny linseed-oil mixture included milk and lime as well. This combo was super-long lasting, and hardened quickly.

So where does the red color come in?

Well, it started with wealthy farmers who added blood to their mixture after slaughtering one of their farm animals. It was a status thing, apparently, because they could just kill an animal when they wanted to add another coat of red.


Now, whether the blood from the abundance of farm animals owned by wealthy agriculturalists is true is just a theory, according to Bob Vila's website. If it is true, regular farmers who didn't have the luxury of killing an animal for a fresh coat of red used iron oxide instead, which was rust and readily available on all farms.

Rust also killed mold and moss and trapped moisture, causing the wood to decay. So even the wealthy sometimes added it to their mixture.

As European farmers migrated to America, they brought the fashionable red barn trend with them, and the hard northeast winters appreciated the mixture.

Eventually, when paint became a thing in the mid-to-late 1800s, red was the most expensive color because of red barns being the popular way to go.

Dan Cutler
Dan Cutler

Eventually, the whitewashing of barns became more popular, because it was cheaper than red paint. Eventually, red paint dropped in price, according to Bob Vila.

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