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Why Are Barns Red? My Astronomical Answer

Updated on August 1, 2017
NateB11 profile image

Like most people I'm curious, and interested in strange factoids. Therefore, I sometimes do research on unusual topics to find answers.

That's the picture we get of a barn. A big red structure on a farm, almost all of them look about the same. With that same shade of red.

Fact is, most barns are red. But why?

A bit of history and a maybe a bit of theory could give us an answer.

Let's look at both.

Farmers Making Their Own Paint

So, variously it has been said that farmers from Europe already started the trend of painting barns red and alternatively it is said that New England farmers started the trend in the 1700s. The theory that red barns originated in Europe states that way back in the 1500s, Swedish farmers, in a copper mine town named Falu, would use a mixture of linseed oil, other various ingredients and stuff from the copper mine--that contained iron--to make paint that they used on their barns and homes.

Either way, why did they--whoever they were--start painting their barns red?

One theory says they needed to have a protective sealant on the barn to prevent deterioration and so they created a mixture of linseed oil from flax plants and mixed in some blood from slaughtered animals. The "blood theory" I don't quite get, except that you could create more of the paint by adding blood to the linseed oil. The linseed oil would give the barns an orange type of color, not really red. So, something would have been added to linseed oil to make this homemade paint red, if indeed those early farmers were using this homemade paint for their barns.

The other theory is that the farmers mixed in rust; rust was plentiful on farms and it acts as protection against fungus and mold and moss, further protecting the barns from the elements and decay.

The use-of-rust theory has a good bit of logic to it, but many people think its just a myth that farmers used rust in paint that made their barns red. No way for me to prove or disprove the theory. But those are the common theories out there.


Red Paint is Cheap

The more plausible theory, one most rooted in fact, is that barns are usually red, traditionally, because red paint was the cheapest paint on the market at the time. This seems true of the home-made paint that farmers were using, because it was made from the most available materials, by people who had to be resourceful and create this protective sealant in the most cost-effective way possible.

But why? Why would the variety of red paint that farmers used be cheaper at the time that red barns originally were "trending"?

Red paint is red because of the red ochre that's in it. Red ochre is a mixture of iron and oxygen. Is this relevant to why red paint was cheap? Yes.

Iron is one of the most plentiful elements on Earth. The principle of supply and demand tells us, therefore, iron is pretty cheap. Gold is expensive, and it is pretty scarce. You get the point.

Also, iron is an element that makes things red and such a pigment is good as a paint. Silicon, maybe not so much.

It is said that barns were originally painted red because at the time red paint was cheaper and could be made from ingredients that were in abundance.
It is said that barns were originally painted red because at the time red paint was cheaper and could be made from ingredients that were in abundance.

Did you know the mass of the Earth is mostly made up of Iron?

See results

Okay, So Why Do We Have So Much Iron

The Earth evidently is made up of 35% Iron. That's a lot of Iron when you consider the size of this big blue ball.

Why does the Earth have so much iron?

The answer is in the stars.

Stars out there in the Universe are trying to manage themselves and their own weight by constantly producing energy from the elements; mostly from Hydrogen, a comparatively lighter element than, say, Iron. As the star gets older, it starts to produce heavier elements to sustain itself but cannot go heavier than Iron because at that point it's no longer going to be able to get energy from an element like Iron. Quite the opposite. At that point the star is about to die because it has heavier elements in it that are no longer giving it energy like the lighter elements had been giving it.

So, as the star dies, it collapses into itself which actually makes it bounce off its own core causing an explosion called a Supernova. This explosion expels gases full of elements out into the Universe, eventually creating suns and planets.

Happens to be our Sun was made from these gases, and material around the Sun created planet Earth. A lot of that material is Iron, as you might imagine.

The explosion of a Super Nova gave us the heavier elements on planet Earth.
The explosion of a Super Nova gave us the heavier elements on planet Earth. | Source

So, I guess we're used to seeing red barns at this point. Tradition has dictated that they should be red. The paint protects them from the elements and the dark shade of red also absorbs heat from the Sun, keeping those barns a tad bit warmer in the Winter.

Either way, we know red paint was cheap back in the day and farmers needed to pinch their pennies. Red paint was cheap because it's made from Iron which is also cheap. Just so happens Iron is cheap because of the law of supply and demand, meaning we have a lot of Iron here on Earth. Well, we have a lot of Iron on Earth because a lot of Iron was produced by a star just before it exploded into a Super Nova; and that explosion from the Super Nova sent gases full of elements out into the Universe that eventually formed our Sun and our planet and that is why we have so much Iron on Earth. And why barns are red.


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    • Glenn Stok profile image

      Glenn Stok 16 months ago from Long Island, NY

      I always enjoy learning something new. The use-of-rust theory is a plausable one for making cheap paint.

      Nice touch with the way you describe the reason for iron being so prominent on our planet.

    • NateB11 profile image

      Nathan Bernardo 3 years ago from California, United States of America

      It's pretty interesting stuff. Very glad you stopped by, Bill.

    • DrBillSmithWriter profile image

      William Leverne Smith 3 years ago from Hollister, MO

      I grew up with red barns, all around, up and down the road, in rural Iowa. I was always told the red paint was cheaper… But, who knew! ;-)