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The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

SHERWIN WILLIAMS CO. - The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

The SHERWIN WILLIAMS CO., a pioneer in the development of the paint industry, was established in Cleveland in 1866 by Henry A. Sherwin. By 2005 the company's operations included over 2,600 paint stores, 139 automotive paint branches, and strong multi-brand paint franchises in architectural, industrial, and special purpose coatings. Business outside of the U.S. and Canada consisted of manufacturing operations in 5 countries and 59 licenses in 38 countries. Sales of $5.408 billion ranked Sherwin-Williams 333rd among the Fortune 500 largest U.S. industrial and service companies.

Sherwin, who came to Cleveland from Vermont in 1860, worked as a bookkeeper at Freeman & Kellogg- a dry goods store- before becoming bookkeeper for the wholesale grocer George Sprague & Co. In July 1866 Sherwin invested $2,000, which he managed to save while working as a bookkeeper, in the Truman Dunham & Co. located at 118 Superior St. 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 and the Sherwin, Williams, & Co. opened later that year at 118 Superior St. 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 pain 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, amp; 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 Calumnet 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 the brush. 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 MANUFACTURING 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, which the company to consolidate its Automotive Finishes division (previously located in Chicago and Troy, Michigan) to the 100 acre site in WARRENSVILLE HEIGHTS. 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. Later that year, the company purchased Philadelphia-based Paint Sundry Brands Corp.; maker of Purdy brand premium paint brushes. These two acquisitions provided Sherwin Williams a greater market share of the professional contractor paint and supplies business. In 2005, Sherwin Williams' main offices were in the Midland Bldg. at 101 Prospect Ave., where it had been headquartered since 1930.

Sherwin-Williams Co. The Story of Sherwin Williams (1955).

McDermott, Kathleen and Davis Dyer. America's Paint Co.; A History of Sherwin-Williams (1991).

Last Modified: 04 Apr 2005 11:13:36 AM

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