History of the Airbrush

The First Airbrush - Francis E. Stanley's 1876 "Atomizer" (Photo www.airbrushmuseum.com)

Pre-School Part 2:
History of the Airbrush

1876 – Like most everything else in life which is awesome or cool that I’ve invented, I also claim to have invented the airbrush but in reality, most sane people agree that Francis Edgar Stanley (the same guy who invented the Stanley Steamer Automobile) invented the Airbrush. Since there’s no real proof though, we’ll just say I invented it. I’m joking, Francis is the man! (genome re-sequencing was my idea though.)

Francis Edgar “Airbrush”  Stanley was living in Newton, Massachusetts and created what he called an “Atomizer”. According to the patent, the Atomizer was used to “spray water colors, India-ink or crayon and also for all kinds of shading in which color can can be used in a liquid state.” The patent office classifies Stanley’s “atomizer” as the first patent of its type and the first in its class and subclass.

The Atomizer was similar in looks/function to an old fashioned hand pump perfume bottle. It consisted of a spray head assembly attached to a paint bottle and a hand pump. There was a small chamber inside the head where paint was drawn up from the bottle via a needle and mixed with the incoming, hand pumped air. The Atomizer also featured interchangeable heads to regulate the spray pattern. This is kind of a strange coincidence because I’ve always used my airbrush to apply cologne. I feel like I get better coverage that way.

1879 – A professional inventor named Abner Peeler from Webster City, Iowa invents the “Paint Distributor”. Patented “…for the painting of watercolors and other artistic purposes.” According to Andy Penaluna of www.andypenaluna.com, “In 1879 an eccentric jeweler from Iowa assembled;

The Paint Distributor - Illustration by Andy Penaluna www.andypenaluna.com

* a jam spoon
* a sewing machine needle,
* a bent over screwdriver,
* old soldering pipes,
* some bent metal
* …. and screwed it all together on some blocks of wood!”

The Paint Distributor featured a spinning wind-wheel with a needle attached slightly off center. As the wind-wheel spun, the needle would dip in and out of the ink reservoir in the spoon. The tip of the needle would pass right in front of a small tube blowing air  and the paint would be blown off the needle tip. The Paint Distributor was powered by a foot pump that fed air into a tank, where it was compressed, and then forced along an attached hose up to the distributor. Cool stuff.

1882-1891 – A dude named Liberty Walkup purchases the patent to the “Paint Distributor”. Some time later he forms The Airbrush Manufacturing Company of Rockford, Illinois. Thanks to some improvements like the revolutionary “walking bar” and a hard rubber handle to enhance appearance, the new and improved Walkup Airbrush was introduced and became an immediate success.

1885 Liberty Walkup Airbrush

Soon after the introduction of the Walkup Airbrush, Liberty forms the Illinois Art School. Housed in the same building as his airbrush company, the school specialized in airbrush technique but taught other disciplines as well. Later, Walkup would go on to publish a quarterly pamphlet dedicated to all things airbrushing called The Airbrush Journal.

*Random note: From the Atomizer to the Paint Distributor, early airbrushes were used predominately for photo retouching. Typically, artists would paint directly on enlarged portrait photos to enhance the photo’s appearance and eliminate unwanted scars or blemishes. This is similar to the way that digital airbrushing and Photoshop are used today for re-touching and enhancing photographs of models before displaying them on magazine covers.

So the next time you’re’ holding an airbrush, pour a little paint out in honor of all the vain people who’ve passed before us and helped to advance the technology of the airbrush to make it what it is today. Just think, if  everyone were happy with the way they looked, the airbrush might never have been invented.

Part 3 – History of the Airbrush continued…

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