Strawberry. Fire truck. Rose. Lady bug. Ketchup. Clifford. All of these are identified with the color red. Red symbolizes love or hate, courage, passion, danger, good luck and guilt. For law-abiding citizens, red will stop you in your tracks. Or fan the fires of rebellion for those seeking revolution.
While driving through the countryside, you’ve probably noticed more than a few red barns. In fact, the vast majority of barns in rural America are painted red. Why is that?
Centuries ago, European farmers sealed the wood on their barns with linseed oil, a tawny-colored oil derived from the seed of the flax plant. Often they mixed it with milk and lime to produce a long-lasting paint that dried and hardened quickly. When dry, the paint wasn’t the bright, fire engine red we see today but more of a burnt-orange red.
Over time, some farmers added blood from a recent slaughter to the oil mixture. As the paint dried, it turned from a bright red to a darker red. More common, however, was the practice of adding ferrous oxide (rust) to the mix. Thanks to the farm equipment, rust was plentiful and is also a poison to many fungi — including mold and moss — which grow on barns. This proved a beneficial side effect, since fungi would trap moisture in the wood, increasing decay.
Barns were also painted red because its rusty hues made it appear the structures were made of brick, a material considered to be a sign of wealth. For whatever reasons, it became fashionable to paint barns red, and when European settlers crossed the Atlantic to North America, they brought with them the tradition of red barns. In the mid to late 1800s, as paints began to be produced with chemical pigments, red paint became the least expensive to buy. Today, even though whitewash is cheaper, red barns live on … and dot the landscape.
There’s no truth to the belief that barns are painted red so cows can find their way home since cattle are colorblind.
Dorothy’s shoes are the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
If you’ve read L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz then you know Dorothy’s magical slippers are silver, not red. So what happened in the transition from book to film? Technicolor happened. At the time, moviegoers were infatuated with the new technology. The contrast between the ruby slippers’ sparkling red and the vibrant gold of the yellow brick road proved an unforgettable way to light up the screen. Originally, several pairs of ruby slippers were made but only five survived. One pair, residing at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, cost over $300,000 to repair in 2018. Another pair went up for auction the same year for six million dollars.
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