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Why are barns red?

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Regardless of whether you’re in the Northeast or in the deep, deep South, a drive through the countryside reveals a curious phenomenon: Barn after barn after barn, almost all are painted red. Why?

Sure, the bold hue means you’ll never get lost on a multiacre farm. But that’s not the reason generations of farmers chose it.

The simple truth: Red paint was once dirt-cheap to make. Red ochre combines iron and oxygen, two of the most common elements in our world—thus their low cost as a paint additive. Of course, today most paint colors (based on artificial dyes) cost the same, but the tradition of painting barns red has stuck around—regardless of sticker price. Because, let’s be real: Blue barns look strange.

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