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The History of Chrome and Cars

One of the first things that most people notice about cars are their paint jobs. And those with bright colors and high-gloss clear coats are the most attractive cars for some people. When an automobile has a dull and faded finish, it will look old no matter how good of shape it is otherwise in.

Today, chrome is something that makes a vehicle look brighter and it also helps a car’s bumper, rims, trim and other parts look new which gives the car a high-end look. Chrome cars are mostly found in areas where the wealthiest live and they are usually spotted driven by some celebrities.

But before, automotive paint did not always give cars the same beautiful look like we see today. It’s because in the earlier years, they do not have the technology like we have today in automotive painting. Let’s take a look back on how automobile painting and chrome began.

Pre-1900 to Early 1900’s

This was the time when vehicles were first invented. Back in these times, modern auto paints were not yet available. To be able to put colors to automobiles, people hand painted their cars using brushes and paint which were purchased from their local stores. However, the paint of their cars easily faded and flaked away, and they would have to repaint their cars every year.

In 1900, automobile makers used the same varnishes used for carriages but applying paint on cars took about 40 days for each vehicle. After the paint dried, it would be sanded and polished.

In the early 1900’s, Dr. George Sargent conducted a study. He discovered that electroplating chrome would need a ratio of one part of sulfuric acid to 100 parts of chromium. In 1920, he presented his research paper.

1920’s: Discovering Paint Guns and Chrome Plating

Ford Motor Company started using paints made from nitrocellulose lacquers on automotive assembly lines in the 1920’s. Compared to older varnishes, these paints had a noticeably shorter drying time.

In 1924, paint spray guns were introduced into the world of automobile painting, making their appearance on assembly lines. This was a big year for both paint advancements and chrome plating because at the same time, two men named Colin Fink and Charles Eldridge from Columbia University discovered the chrome electroplating process. Their discovery was based from the paper published by Dr. Sargent in the earlier years.

1930’s: Spray-On Chrome

Automakers started using paints called stoving enamels in the 1930’s. These paints could dry much faster and they provided glossier shines.

Also during this time, mirrors were very expensive because they have to be made individually by master craftsmen. But Dr. William Peacock developed a silvering spray in order to silver mirrors. This allowed thousands of mirrors to be manufactured every day. It also helped in decreasing the price of mirrors and making them widely available.

1950’s to 1960’s: Acrylics

General Motors began painting its cars with a new acrylic in 1955. This acrylic required the cars to be baked after the application of acrylic. This process gave a consistent finish to cars but it wasn’t as glossy provided by stoving enamels.

Ford Motor Co. started using acrylic stoving enamels in 1960. This provided the tough finish with more shine.

1980’s: Urethane and Polyurethane

Car manufacturers started using urethane and polyurethane paints on their vehicles in the late 1980’s. After applying urethane and polyurethane paints, clear coats were then applied. These provided vehicles with durable and highly glossy finishes.

Today

In the present time, there are so many automotive painting process to choose from. There is now the process called electrocoating where vehicles are submerged in a primer bath and electric currents are used to bind the coating to the metal.

Aside from the amazing and high-end look that chrome can give to a vehicle, it is also durable which enables the car to look new for many years. Chrome cars are also easy to clean and keep dust-free. However, it’s rare to see a chrome-painted car on the road because it’s quite expensive. But today there is also the spray chrome which enables people to achieve the same feel and look that can be provided by chrome plating but in a more inexpensive way.

Chrome cars seem to be new to us in the present time but history shows that it has been invented years ago. And as the technology advances, the technology of automotive painting also continues to evolve.