1917 Paints and Coatings

Entry into the paints and coatings industry marked DuPont’s first effort to diversify beyond explosives in the years after 1902. Nitrocellulose, in addition to being the raw material of smokeless powder, was also used as a lacquer to coat brass fixtures. In 1904 DuPont acquired the International Smokeless Powder & Chemical Company, a leading manufacturer of nitrocellulose lacquer.Show more

In 1910 DuPont bought the Fabrikoid Company, which had developed an artificial leather made of nitrocellulose-coated fabric. DuPont improved the product and successfully marketed it for use in automobile tops. DuPont entered the consumer paint market in 1917 with the purchase of the Harrison Brothers Paint Company and acquired five other firms in the next four years. The company’s inexperience led to heavy losses, however, which helped convince management to create autonomous divisions in 1921.


Chemists working on improved nitrocellulose film discovered DuPont’s most successful coating. In 1920 they produced a durable lacquer that dried quickly—a boon to the emerging mass production industries. Marketed as Duco in 1922, it was the standard finish on all General Motors (GM) cars within four years. That achievement was followed up at mid-decade by Dulux alkyd resin, which had a glossier finish than Duco and proved popular in appliance manufacture. In the mid-1950s, DuPont introduced a new line of cheaper, more durable acrylic coatings. Lucite automotive lacquer replaced Duco and Lucite appliance enamel took the place of Dulux in the appliance market. At the same time, DuPont developed more specialized coatings including Budium polybutadiene interior coating for food and beverage cans. Particularly notable was the 1961 introduction of Teflon non-stick cookware. During the 1960s and 1970s, DuPont again focused on consumer paints, introducing Lucite acrylic interior and exterior house paints. However, stiff competition and the recession of the late 1970s and early 1980s compelled the company to abandon the consumer paints business, selling its Lucite lines in 1983 and its acrylics 10 years later.


Thereafter DuPont focused on more profitable automotive and industrial finishes, and by the mid-1990s it led the field in the United States. The 1999 acquisition of Herberts, a subsidiary of Hoechst AG, gave DuPont a strong position in the European market for automotive finishes and industrial and powder coatings.


Lithopone is a white pigment composed of a mixture of barium sulfate and zinc sulfide. It was discovered in the 1870s and proved popular because it was cheaper than other white pigments. DuPont first sold lithopone and lithopone paints when it acquired the Harrison Brothers Paint Company in 1917. Several other acquisitions in the 1920s, notably the Grasselli Chemical Company and the Krebs Pigment and Chemical Company, soon made DuPont the largest lithopone producer in the United States.


Lithopone encountered stiff competition in the 1930s from another white pigment, titanium dioxide (TiO2). Lithopone pigments were not as durable as titanium dioxide pigments, but they were much cheaper. However, improvements in TiO2 production in the 1920s lowered its cost and threatened to displace lithopone paints. Blocked by other firms' patents from marketing its own line of TiO2 pigments, DuPont purchased a TiO2 producer, the Commercial Pigments Corporation (CPC), in 1931. DuPont then merged CPC with its Krebs subsidiary to form the Krebs Pigment and Color Corporation and sold a pure TiO2 pigment under the name Ti-Pure, while making an improved lithopone pigment, Duolith, by mixing lithopone with TiO2. Over the next several decades DuPont gradually phased out its use of lithopone pigment in favor of TiO2.