Chemistry of World War II
World War II, the paint industry geared up for defense production.
Thousands of military items required paints, including camouflage
paint for tanks; aircraft, ship, and truck finishes; and coatings
for guns and bombs. Every soldier was equipped with many painted items,
some of which had their own special finish. In addition, construction
equipment, water supplies, and electrical lighting systems necessary
to a military campaign also required paint.
a leading paint manufacturer based in Cleveland, Ohio, worked to
accommodate this defense conversion. Plant engineers converted old
equipment to new manufacturing uses. Chemists experimented with
old, almost forgotten oils and resins and treated them with modern
processing equipment. Purchasing agents combed the country for raw
materials so that shortages would not halt production.
affected every corner of life during the war, from women who gave
up stockings because silk was unavailable, to paint manufacturers
who were required to ration linseed oil, a common paint binder.
These constraints led Sherwin-Williams to accelerate their research
into new coatings concepts. Their chemists took casein, a milk protein
used by the ancient Egyptians for making paint, and emulsified (or
suspended) varnish in it. They then added a number of other ingredients,
with water as the largest component, to create a water-based paint.
result was Kem-Tone paint, a fast-drying emulsion that
met with instant public acceptance and would ultimately become one
of the best-selling paints in the United States. Kem-Tone paint
became the first widely accepted waterborne interior wall paint
binding power to allow washability.
by a team of Sherwin-Williams chemists, Kem-Tone paint did not
depend on organic solvents (based on carbon, such as petroleum derivatives),
and it reduced the required amounts of traditional binders, which
were in short supply because of the war. Technologically, the chemists
at Sherwin-Williams showed that it was chemically and commercially
possible for a paint emulsified in water to produce a durable coating.
was registered as a trademark on Sept. 23, 1941. In the next three
years, more than 10 million gallons would be sold.
widespread acceptance of Kem-Tone paint was accelerated by the
simultaneous introduction of the hand-roller (called Roller-Koater),
which made application by do-it-yourselfers very easy. Here, too,
wartime shortages played a significant role. Richard Adams, an engineer
for Sherwin-Williams, invented and patented the roller as an alternative
to brushes, which were in short supply because the war between China
and Japan restricted the availability of hog bristles.
paint and the Roller-Koater applicator ushered in a new era
in the do-it-yourself paint market, which comprises about 50 percent
of the architectural coatings (paints applied to residences) sold
today. The innovative chemistry of Kem-Tone paint also
opened the door to continued developments in waterborne paints,
which account for approximately 80 percent of all the architectural
coatings sold today.