I've read in a lot of books and magazines that when Ford picked Japan Black enamel for the one and only available color in 1914, it was because that type of paint dried faster than any other. I'm sort of leaning toward filing this one in the myth category and have a few ideas as to what might be the real reason for choosing black, but maybe it'd be wiser to hear from you guys on the subject first before going ahead and showing you how little I know.
Henry made that paint choice so that the car showed well in B&W photos of the day.
Japan is a drying agent and is an old solvent for making paint dry fast. I don't know if you can get it any more because Ralph Nadir has closed all of those doors.
We had a paint in the late 1940's called JapoLac not sure of the spelling but it dried rather quickly.
Not sure of the thinners. Some of them were like shallac and thinned with alcohol. the JapoLac thinned with acetone and some of them thinned with mineral spirits. That have all gone away in the name of saving the world and stopping global warming.
Take up stamp collecting it is safer, does not need a registration and taxes tied to it, and doesn't need a garage and a truck and trailer to take it around to have fun with it. .
Columbian Exposition series of 1893 are my favs.
I've heard the same thing but had someone explain that it wasn't a matter of it drying a few seconds or minutes faster than other colors. It's that it dried in a matter of minutes or hours where the colored varnishes that had been used before took days to dry. Whether there's any truth to it......I don't know, but heck, it sounds like a good story anyway.
Go to the link at MTFCA homepage for the Ency, go to Painting, and in Bruce's Ency is Trent's research, here you can find lots of details over the years of T production.
From Trent Boggess work:
There appear to be several good reasons for the choice of black as the color of the paint. First, black color varnish paints tended to be more durable than lighter colored paints. Authorities on paint in the 1920's noted that black paint tended to last longer than paints with lighter colored pigments. Second, as mentioned above, the addition of Gilsonite improved the damp resisting properties and the final gloss of the paint, but also resulted in a very dark colored paint. The range of colors that asphaltum paints can have is quite limited. The dark color of the Gilsonite limits the color of the final paint to dark shades of maroon, blue, green or black. Cost may also have been a factor. The carbon black pigment used in these paints is probably the least expensive pigment available; almost any other pigment is more expensive than carbon black. One often cited reason for the use of Japan black on the Model T was that it allegedly dried faster than any other paint. However, there is no evidence in either the Ford engineering records or the contemporary literature on paint, to indicate that that was the case. The drying time of oven baking Japan black is no different from the drying time of other colored oven baking paints of the period. In short, Model T's were not painted black because black dried faster. Black was chosen because it was cheap and it was very durable.
Another point relating to black is it's great covering power or opacity.
Black will block out the underneath surface easier than other colors. The method used up till the introduction of black Japan required the color to be put on which dried with no gloss and then a clear varnich was put over it to seal and provide gloss. If you mixed the pigment with the varnish it became semi transparent so several coats were needed to gain coverage over the undercoat.
The black japan gave coverage in one coat and dried with a gloss. Even today several colors have poor opacity, maroon and dark blue being particularly so. Usually they have black applied first and then they are put over the black.
I heard that not only did it dry fairly quinkly but that when parts were dipped or the paint was brushed on it flowed down to a smooth surface before it dried.
Is there any paint today that comes close to the black color of back then? or is black black?
I also read the same story Hal tells. That the colors had to sit for days to dry. But that's all I remember it saying as far as the black drying faster business is concerned. Cheaper/ more durable I'll buy. Sounds right. As for the piece Dan reprinted: Did Ford oven dry the paint? New to me. And if he did dry it and that made the drying time for all paints about the same as stated in the piece it blows the black only 'cause it dries faster scheme out of the water.
The Japaning process allows for a finish near smooth all by itself, no orange peel but maybe a sag...and somewhat like lacquer of today a sag could be rubbed out. It also finds the 'right' film thickness all by itself.
If you read up on the early cars, the staging area required lots of space for a 20-25 day drying cycle on the oil based varnishes, from painting to planned use.
As a lifelong student of industrial anthropology, I'm still not personally totally sold on the black was better part. I believe it was more a matter of Japaning requiring huge vats, collecting areas, and literally miles of hoses...and NOT just a 5 gallon pail. Every additional color would have doubled the need for 'space' unless there was a shutdown and complete flush of the prior system. let alone new volume of gallons as 'the charge'.
I will ascribe to 'black is cheap' theory. Synthetic pigmentation did not hit high stride until the 20's. A 'few' synthetics not having any color depth to them were available domestically from about 1900. Until then a lot of the strong red naturally occuring pigmentation and strong naturally occuring blue pigmentation had to be imported, naturally occuring yellows we had by the mega-tons in USA, in just about any shade of yellow you wanted.
Black is black, throw all of your waste anything together, grind it up, you get black.
Ford DID have SOME drying ovens, but I'm not sure when they did come along...still in the Highland time though. Not near a look-up right now.
Although I don't do too much research into GM/Fisher...somehow GM managed to handle the variability, long before the 'nitros' came along...but then again GM mantra of the era was to do things exactly the opposite of Ford, and eventually 'The American System' embraced by GM outdid 'Fordism' and by the time the V-8 came along, Ford had totally embraced "The American System".
Thanks for all the responses (and please keep them coming).
My half-baked guess is that if Henry Ford were to allow himself only one color, he'd pick that one which was most versatile. Remember, we're talking about a semi-Victorian age wherein the only women wearing red dresses were plying their trade in honky-tonk saloons, so some kinds of folk might have felt a little uneasy about driving around town in a flashy-colored car. Back in 1914, professionals like doctors, lawyers, judges, undertakers, accountants, bankers, ministers and certain sects of religious folk would have insisted on black. I don't think Mr. Ford would have intentionally turned his back on that many customers.
Then again, between 1908 and 1913, the Model T wasn't available in black, which means, either Mr. Ford eventually caught on that he had been alienating a sizable demographic... or I'm completely wrong about all of the above.
My above comment about pigment differences causing drying differences is true, but not that much in the big scheme of things, yet we have to remember that Ford was apparently the master of 1/100 of a penny per car is a huge amount come the end of the year.
Ford was virtually unique in the black only. Others started with color and stayed with color through all the paint technology changes. I actually think Ford made an economic decision, and rationalized that he could tell the masses...but for 75 bucks more I could provide color, but color isn't value added and if you want color the local carriage guy could probably to it for about 75 bucks!
Here is the rest of my story about Ford BLACK japaning. To answer what current lacquer and what current black color come closest to mimic Ford original “Japan Black”, the answer is there is no answer. Way too much has changed in chemistry, pigmentation, etc. to have a hope or a prayer of matching as applied, and as faded/oxidized.
Someday if I can ever prove beyond a shadow of a doubt what Ford paint across all years actually was, I’d publish for the good of the hobby. As with all things Ford, I’ve been ‘stuck’ at about 95% average 'proof fit'for about 5 years.
I can however, ascertain with 1000% accuracy what Ford BLACK was in the Japaning era.
Ford F-101, referred to as first coat black was the coat used for direct metal contact.
32% asphalt. Specified by Ford to be of a trade name Gilsonite for both consistency and adherence as Gilsonite never dries 100% hard where other generic asphalt dries harder)
3% carbon black pigment
10% linseed oil unboiled (Secret recipe yet unbroken, with lead and iron as the drying catalyst) Now turned into boiled linseed oil 'mix'
55% solvents of mineral spirits, or “turps”, or naphtha...apparently whatever was the cheapest commodity of the month.
Ford F-102, always referred to as finish coat black.
35% asphalt. Same Gilsonite requirement
NO additional pigment
10% linseed oil unboiled (Secret recipe yet unbroken, with lead and iron as the drying catalyst)
55% solvents of mineral spirits, or “turps”, or naphtha.
Ford Metallurgy Department never understood exactly why Gilsonite provided a seemingly better catalyst…the field of Material Science was still an Art yet in infancy…yet trial and error tests showed Gilsonite based asphalt cured faster.
Further, with the above formulations, subjecting the painted object to 400 degrees F for 1 hour really shot the catalyst off exponentially and frankly any time at heat was better than air dry. The ‘paint’ was ‘set’ and ‘skinned’ following a bake like this, yet it still had to cure through further cross-linking of the ingredients and allowing solvents to cook off/evaporate.
Intersting also is that if the same ratio per pound were used for the F-102 only leave the Asphalt/Gilsonsite out...my prediction is it would do everything that we think a clear coat does today...may take longer to dry, may need a lower heat for longer...but definately would work as a clear coat provided it could be heated.
Now...if the rest of the darned F numbers would allow me to unlock them the same way, my 'project' could see a goal while I'm still around. ...lol
This is only my opinion but as Henry was frugal (CHEAP) and demand increased ANYthing that might hinder production, such as different body colors, or add expense was eliminated.
I also think when Henry figgered out water pumps weren't a necessity THEY went out the window too.
CHEAP CHEAP CHEAP.
The End....... LOL
Building a car less expensively AND passing that reduction on to the buyer doesn't exactly describe cheap to me. I'm not disagreeing with you Craig, maybe just nitpicking the description of cheap. As long as something that caused a reduction in manufacturing cost plus didn't affect the cars dependability and lowered the total cost to the consumer I can't argue with it. We all know that manufacturers today go to lighter castings and plastic when ever possible and the price either stays the same or even goes up. If black could do what it appeared to do for H.F. then Amen. The plot thickens.
For the purist:
Yah CharlieB......you understand what I'm getting at.
CHEAP just sounded funny......
Everything that wasn't required to get basic transportation into the hands of the masses was eliminated including other paint schemes that would slow production.
I saw that the Home Depot has the thinner called "Japan" in the thinner section of the store. It is used as a fast drying agent in oil based paints.
"japan black" is still available... It is used as a tint in creating highlights and finishing gold leaf... About $80 per gallon if I recall correctly.
"Japan Black" Wiki discribes as, Japan means to finish in black.
I found an artical on car colors printed in 1916,
"blacks, blues and greens as colors for use upon automobiles, these pigments are colors ground in Japan, they will, of course, give a better account of themselves if kept well protected under an ample supply of varnish"
'lighter colors had white lead in their composition giving elasticity and stand washing, cleaning, durability and show less road dirt than darker colors."
$80.00 a gallon is half the cost of jerry's posting! A bargain!