The History of SW

The Sherwin-Williams Company, a pioneer in the development of the paint industry, was established in Cleveland in 1866 by Henry A. Sherwin. Sherwin, who came to Cleveland from Vermont in 1860, worked as a bookkeeper at Freeman & Kellogg, a dry goods store, before becoming a bookkeeper for the wholesale grocer George Sprague & Co. Eventually, Sherwin settled in at the Truman Dunham & Co, again as a bookkeeper.

In 1866 Sherwin invested $2,000 to become a partner at Truman Dunham & Co, which he managed to save while working there. The Truman Dunham & Co. was a prosperous importer and dealer of home decorating and furnishing supplies; including paints and varnishes, oils and pigments, brushes and window glass, among other related products. As a partner in the firm, young Sherwin soon learned all he could about the paint business.

In 1869, Truman Dunham & Co. opened a new factory to produce linseed oil, which formed the base of most paints. This development represented a shift in the focus of the original partnership to manufacturing. The partnership was dissolved in February 1870. Sherwin, Alanson T. Osborn, and Edward P. Williams formed a new partnership, Sherwin, Williams, & Co., to take over Truman Dunham’s old retail operations. Sherwin, Williams, & Co. opened later that year at 118 Superior Street, Cleveland. First year sales for the new company reached $422,390.97.

By 1872 the business was relocated to 126 Superior and 44 Long streets. Sherwin’s group bought the Standard Oil Co. cooperage building at 601 Canal St. in 1873; which became the company’s first factory for the manufacture of paste paints, oil colors, and putty. At first, Sherwin-Williams continued the practice of selling ingredients that the customer then mixed together, but the company soon began to develop a reliable ready-mixed paint. Introduced to the market in 1875, ready-mixed paint revolutionized the paint industry and soon became the industry standard.

In 1882, Osborn sold his interest in the company, but retained ownership of the retail operations, leaving Sherwin, Williams, & Co. to focus solely on the manufacturing and wholesale distribution of its paint and paint products, which it did through a network of exclusive dealers and agents.

When Sherwin-Williams was incorporated in Ohio on 16 July 1884, it had sales agents in New York and Chicago. Soon after incorporation, however, the company began a period of steady expansion. In 1888 it bought the Calumet Paint Co. in Chicago. This expansion was fueled in part by Walter H. Cottingham, who became general manager of the company in 1898 and eventually succeeded Sherwin as president in 1909 after the founder retired.

Under Cottingham’s leadership as General Manager of Sherwin-Williams, the company greatly expanded its network of dealerships. Starting about 1890 and continuing until 1910, the company made a series of acquisitions which organized the company’s operations vertically, thus reducing its dependence on supplies.

In 1905 Sherwin-Williams forged an alliance with the well-regarded London firm of Lewis Berger & Sons, Ltd., and in 1910 built new factories in Newark, NJ, and Oakland, CA. Sherwin-Williams built a linseed oil plant in Cleveland in 1902; bought lead, zinc, and copper mines in New Mexico in 1904; and built a smelter in Coffeyville, KS, shortly after.

The first two decades of the twentieth century were ones of remarkable growth for the company and sales grew from $2.3 million in 1900 to $34.2 million in 1919. During this period, the company also opened its first Sherwin-Williams retail stores. Along with the company’s existing dealership network, this allowed the firm new avenues for its products. By the early 1920s, the company was the largest manufacturer of coatings in the U.S. Affiliates and subsidiaries included Lewis Berger, Martin-Senour, and Hemingway. Thirty-six manufacturing plants, 90 warehouses, and 36 retail stores were owned and operated.

In the 1940s, the company turned to product development to create growth. In the early 1940s, it introduced both Kem-Tone paint, a fast-drying, water-based paint for interior home use, and the “Roller-Koater,” a roll-on painting tool to replace brushing larger surfaces, like ceilings and walls.

By 1960 net sales had reached $282 million, and the company was listed on the New York Stock Exchange in 1964. In the 1960s Sherwin-Williams acquired 4 other companies, including Cleveland’s Osborn Mfg. Corp. in 1968.

By the end of the 1960s, Sherwin-Williams’ products were sold through 1,850 branch offices and nearly 33,000 dealers. Net sales reached $500 million. Despite record earnings and impressive growth, the cost of raw materials increased significantly, leading the percentage of profit per gallon to be the lowest in the firm’s history.

Although increased volume hid much of these costs, pressures from discount retailers, increased competition from other makers, and expenses related to modernizing the company’s manufacturing, distribution, and research and development facilities, led to a downturn in the company’s futures in the 1970s.

This ultimately led Sherwin-Williams executives to sell some of its operations and close 100 company-operated stores in 1978, in the wake of a loss of $8.2 million the previous year. The company also struggled against an unsuccessful takeover bid by Gulf Western.

In 1979 new president and CEO John G. Breen assembled a management team which brought the then nearing bankruptcy company to 16 years of consecutive earnings improvement. Sales tripled and after-tax profits increased 36 times since 1978.

Approximately one-third of the sales growth has come from acquisitions, which have included well-known names such as Dutch Boy, Dupli-Color, Western Automotive Finishes, DeSoto Architectural Paints, Krylon, Cuprinol, Cook Industrial Maintenance Coatings, Old Quaker, and H&C Concrete Stains.

Sherwin-Williams container and chemical businesses were divested in 1984 and 1985, respectively. Gray Drug Stores was acquired for diversification in 1981, but was sold to Rite-Aide in 1987. Although the company closed its Canal Rd. plant in 1982, eliminating about 70 jobs, it still employed 3,200 of its total 18,000 employees in the State of Ohio, primarily in Cleveland, in 1995.

Starting in 1995, Sherwin-Williams began a series of 16 acquisitions and within 2 years the company acquired paint maker Pratt & Lambert (1995) and Thompson Minwax (1997). These acquisitions helped place Sherwin-Williams in the top ten Northeast Ohio companies in 1997, in terms of revenues. In 1999, John G. Breen- who was architect of Sherwin-Williams’ growth during his 20 years as head of the company- retired and was replaced by Christopher M. Connor as chief executive.

In 2000, Sherwin-Williams took over the former research campus for BP America, where the company to consolidated its Automotive Finishes division (previously located in Chicago and Troy, Michigan) to the 100 acre site in Warrensville Heights, OH. By 2002, Sherwin-Williams operated 2,643 stores and had total revenues of $5.184 billion. In 2004, the company purchased Duron, a paint maker and retailer with locations on the East Coast, for $350 million and an assumption of Duron’s debt.

Also in 2004, the company purchased Philadelphia-based Paint Sundry Brands Corp.; maker of Purdy brand (and Best Liebco) premium paint brushes. These acquisitions provided Sherwin-Williams a greater market share of the professional contractor paint and supplies business. Sherwin-Williams’ corporate office are located in the Midland Building at 101 Prospect Avenue, Cleveland, where it has been headquartered since 1930.

Sherwin-Williams purchased Columbia Paint & Coatings in 2007. In 2011, the company acquired Leighs Paints, based in Bolton UK, manufacturers of intumescent and high performance industrial coatings. In late 2012, Sherwin Williams began the process of purchasing the Comex Group. Comex was the 4th largest paint manufacturer in North America. After Mexican antitrust regulators voted against the deal twice, Sherwin-Williams bought Comex’s US and Canadian divisions. (PPG acquired Comex’s Mexican business).

Valspar, Sherwin-Williams largest acquisition, was purchased in June, 2017 for a whopping $11.3 billion dollars. The Cabot and Ace Paints brands were included with Valspar’s purchase. In early 2018, the company and Lowe’s announced an exclusive deal; Sherwin-Williams will supply Minwax, Cabot and Thompson’s WaterSeal stain brands, Purdy paintbrushes and Krylon spray paints at Lowe’s nationwide. It appears that the HGTV Home by Sherwin-Williams will remain at Lowe’s too.

The company reported $3.9 billion in 2018 first quarter sales. Sales have a chance of breaking the $16 billion barrier for 2018, which would be a new record. Today, Sherwin-Williams is likely the largest paint company in the world. (PPG 2018 projected sales are about 15 billion and AzkoNobel (just split their chemical and paint businesses resulting a smaller, but still enormous paint company) projects 2018 sales at about $10.9 billion.

Sherwin-Williams        for sales/employees projected for 2018          $15.9 billion                59,000 employees

PPG                             for sales/employees projected for 2018           $15.2 billion               47,000 employees

AkzoNobel                  for sales/employees projected for 2018           $10.9 billion               36,000 employees

RPM International      for sales/employees projected for 2018             $5.2 billion                14,000 employees

Fun Facts

Valspar uses the chameleon for a color mascot. Prior to 1905, when Sherwin-Williams started using the “Cover the Earth” logo, their symbol was a chameleon. During WWII, the company designed and built a plant that produced 10 million shells, several million aerial bombs and anti-tank mines without a mishap. At the same time, Sherwin-Williams produced 400,000 pounds of paint for the battleship USS Iowa.

And in case you are wondering, Super Paint was introduced in 1981.

Founded in 1866, The Sherwin-Williams Company is a global leader in the manufacture, development, distribution, and sale of paints, coatings and related products to professional, industrial, commercial, and retail customers. The company manufactures products under well-known brands such as Sherwin-Williams, Valspar, HGTV HOME® by Sherwin-Williams, Dutch Boy, Krylon, Minwax, Thompson’s Water Seal, Cabot and many more.

With global headquarters in Cleveland, Ohio, Sherwin-Williams branded products are sold exclusively through a chain of more than 4,900 company-operated stores and facilities, while the company’s other brands are sold through leading mass merchandisers, home centers, independent paint dealers, hardware stores, automotive retailers, and industrial distributors.

The Sherwin-Williams Performance Coatings Group supplies a broad range of highly-engineered solutions for the construction, industrial, packaging and transportation markets in more than 110 countries around the world. Sherwin-Williams shares are traded on the New York Stock Exchange (symbol: SHW).


Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

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