|John W. Masury & Son
John W. Masury (1820-1895). Photo Courtesy of Fred Weir
John Wesley Masury was born in Salem, Massachusetts in 1820. In 1842 he went to Brooklyn, where he clerked in the paint store of John D. Prince.
Masury suggested that Prince manufacture dry, ground colors. They would later become partners under the firm name Prince, Masury & Weeks. The
business flourished and in 1870 Masury became sole owner. His son-in-law, Lieut. Frederick L. Miller of the U. S. Navy, became a partner and the firm was
renamed John W. Masury & Son. Miller died in 1874. Masury later adopted his grandsons John Miller Masury and Frederick L. M. Masury as his sons.
Masury was an inventor and his patents in 1857 and 1859 enabled the marketing of ready-made paints. He developed a novel process for grinding paints
in oil. He came up with the idea of selling paints in cans with easily removable thin metal tops. Masury had a monopoly on the paint can invention for 21
years, enabling rapid growth of the firm. Another invention was a mill for grinding colors in quick-drying varnish to a fine particle size. To accomplish this
Masury introduced cooling into the mill to prevent the mill stones from becoming hot and deteriorating the paint. This was a technology breakthrough in
In 1874 Masury purchased the former Seatuck Club house in Center Moriches, Long Island for his family residence.
The paint factory occupied most of the block bounded by Pearl, Jay, Plymouth, and Water Streets, with the property assembled between 1879 and 1894. In
1901 about 220 were employed there. The firm manufactured a wide variety of paint and varnish products.
A 1911 advertisement describes the factory complex: "The great factories of Masury & Son, on Jay Street, occupy the major portion of a city block. On the
first floor is the shipping room, holding thousands of cans of paint to be sent to all parts of the world. Outside, lines of wagons and auto trucks await.
Another floor is devoted to the grinding department, where the mills of the paint gods grind slowly but exceedingly fine the earth-coloring, chemical
colors and pigments. It is due to the repeated grinding of colors for automobile and coach paint and the care of its preparation that after the many coats
are applied thefine, satin gloss appears."
John Masury died in 1895, leaving an estate valued at $8.0 million, equivalent to $217 million today. He was succeeded as head of the firm by John Dohse
(1857-1908) who entered Masury’s employ in 1880. Dohse was succeeded as president by John Masury’s son, John W. Masury, Jr. (1881-1931), who was
said to have been the youngest corporate head of a major American company. The younger Masury expanded the company’s marketing nationally, opening
plants in Chicago, Kansas, and Minneapolis, and eventually began sales in Europe, Japan, and Australia.
In 1942, the Masury Company left Brooklyn, transferring its manufacturing to Baltimore. It existed until a few years ago when Valspar acquired the
remaining business and the Masury brand disappeared. The Brooklyn Varnish Manufacturing Company purchased the original Masury plant and occupied
the site for many years.
The 5-story Masury building at 39 Pearl St. was built about 1880. By 1904, the firm was using the building as a tin shop. The austere facade and partially-
remaining denticulated cornice represent the vernacular style of industrial architecture popular in the late 19th century. The building survives today,
although altered since the original construction. It is located in the DUMBO (District Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass) historic industrial complex.
The complex consists of 95 19th and early 20th century industrial and warehouse buildings, Belgian block streets, and its location on the East River by the
imposing anchorage of the Manhattan Bridge. Other manufacturing concerns located in this district were Arbuckle Brothers (coffee and sugar), Robert
Gair (paper boxes), E.W. Bliss (machinery), and Brillo (soap pads). The district includes the earliest, large scale reinforced concrete factory buildings in
America and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
1) National Cyclopedia of American Biography, Vol. 5, 1894, p. 155
2) Painters Magazine, 1904, p. 375
3) Dumbo Historic District, New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission, December 18 2007 at http://www.nyc.
gov/html/lpc/downloads/pdf/reports/DUMBO_Designation_Report.pdf, accessed July 1, 2011
4) Dumbo Industrial District, Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DUMBO_Industrial_District, accessed July 1, 2011
ColorantsHistory.Org thanks Fred Weir, whose great great grandfather was John W. Masury, and David Wilcox for contributing material for this history.
Masury Trade Ads. Left Tin Sign ca. late 19th Century. Right: 1904 Ad
Former Masury Building at 39 Pearl St., Brooklyn, NY. Photo: Google Street View
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Masury Wood Box for Shipment of Paint Cans ca. 1880-1900. Photos Courtesy of Jay Cote.