In a country built on strong backs and sweaty brows, it’s easy to forget that the American dream owes a great deal of its long track record of success to the practice of applied science. Since the Machine Age of the 1880s, physics, chemistry, and biology have led to feats of engineering yielding everything from automobiles to microprocessors. Once you stir entrepreneurship into the mix, you have a recipe for business success.

In 1947, Otto Behr took that approach by combining a marketplace opportunity with his father’s chemistry expertise to develop a clear finish and stain for redwood that improved on simple linseed oil. For nearly four decades, the Behr Process Corp. grew from a business in the family garage to a burgeoning stain and varnish manufacturer. In 1986, scientific advancements gave the company another edge that propelled the business forward. In a time when oil- or solvent-based paints were the norm, the development of a waterborne formulation for coatings made all the difference. Behr began producing paints that not only did away with ingredients now recognized as toxic, such as lead, chrome, and mercury, but also offered a coating that dried faster than oil-based paint, yielding productivity and customer satisfaction.


Like many companies that supply the nation’s new and existing for-sale and for-rent homes with American-made manufactured products and materials, Behr’s history is rooted in science and ingenuity, and its continuing work in chemistry promises only to improve on the past.

General manager Scott Richards says Behr’s philosophy and culture of innovation are really “the result of the stars aligning,” but adds that knowing who Behr works for and who it works with help give those stars a nudge in the right direction.

“Our first responsibility is understanding our end user,” Richards says, “whether that’s a pro devoted to new construction or a DIYer who would never think to buy a primer before painting. But the second part is technological development on the raw materials side. As we’re working on the marketing side to understand the consumer, Dr. John and his team are working with our suppliers to understand what the latest and greatest resin technology can do. We know what we would like to put into our products. The question is, can the technology deliver on those things?”

John Gilbert, senior vice president of research and development to whom Richards refers, says yes—you just have to figure out how. “We’re very focused on creating products that are directed at the end needs of pros and consumers, and usually you need the latest technology to get you there,” he says. “When we build a paint, we use polymer chemistry and analytical science to provide the very best properties, like resistance to scrubbing or washing, household stains, dirt, or durability of the color against fading. There’s a deep commitment by the company to do the research work, and our core competence is in using the newest, latest, and greatest tech in our formulations.”

A tour through the Behr Process Corp. factory in Santa Ana, Calif., shows how that commitment to science has helped Behr offer solutions to its customers and grow significantly, even amid economic downturns.

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Los Angeles, CA.