Spritzdekor’s Chicago Connection
by Rolf Achilles
On September 19, 1876, F.E. Stanley of Kingfield, Maine, was awarded a patent for a device he called the “atomizer” that he claimed could spray watercolors, India-ink, crayon and produce shading. Stanley’s “atomizer” never went into production.
Three years later, Abner Peeler of Webster City, Iowa, developed what he called a “paint distributer.” He sold his idea to Liberty and Charles Walkup of Rockford, Illinois who improved on the design, receiving several patents by 1883 when they set up the Rockford Manufacturing Company. Within a year, the firm changed its name to a more descriptive The Airbrush Manufacturing Company.
Charles L. Burdick, a Madison, Wisconsin watercolorist and inventor filed a “paint distributer” patent on November 15, 1889, for a contraption that looked like a pen attached to a cup affixed in front of the nozzle controlled by a trigger that when pressed results in a fine spray of paint. Burdick patented his concept on May 3, 1892. His new type of paint distributer mixed the air and paint inside the “brush.”
The Chicago firm of Thayer & Chandler hired Burdick to acquire his design. Thayer & Chandler exhibited Burdick’s “paint distributer” at the 1893 Chicago World’s Columbian Exhibition. They received an award without mentioning Berdick. He was miffed. In the contract he had signed with Thayer & Chandler, Berdick had signed over only his US rights, not the rights to distribute in Europe. After other disagreements with Thayer & Chandler, Berdick moved to London were he set up the Fountain Brush Company to manufacture his newly branded “aerograph.” In 1900, Burdick renamed his London based company The Aerograph Company, Ltd.
Berdick’s design quickly became the commercial standard and soon found a niche in the German ceramics industry where it was widely applied in the effort to mechanize the traditional labor-intensive hand decorating process. Around 1900, combined with a stencil, the airbrush was used to quicken the drawing of flowers and fruit. Not only was the micro thin layer of applied glaze more cost effective than thicker traditional hand painted colors, its application could also be applied freehand and with stencils. By the mid1920s many firms where applying aerograph technology to their lines of everyday ware. The results were enormously popular. The public loved it. The National Socialists didn’t. They politicized it and by the late 1930s this every-persons Modernism had died.