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Live Help & Technical Support
Monday - Friday 6:30am to 5:00pm PST
Saturday - Sunday 7am to 4pm PST (Internet sales and orders only)

  • (858) 909-2110 - Internet Sales, Orders, Technical & Product Information
  • (858) 909-2188 - Custom Shop Support Line
  • (858) 909-2151 - Para asistencía en Español

Ditzler/PPG Paint History

Over the ten decades of the last century, all innovations and developments in the OEM and refinish markets have brought two important contributions to the industry: improved quality in all respects and of course, speed. The object for the user is always to finish, and refinish, faster. Advancements have always brought improvements in preparation time, application time and degree of difficulty and very importantly, drying time.

When the auto industry began, in the days of painstaking manual labor, finishes were applied much as they were for the auto’s predecessor, the carriage–by hand, with a brush.

These early auto paints, while easily touched up by the car’s owner if damaged, had their own significant drawbacks. Finish quality from early India enamel was mediocre and there were few colors in the primarily dark earth-tone palette. The name comes from the paint’s relation to India ink, a pigment made from lamp black, with no relation to the country India. Durability of the finish was also weak, as these enamels were very prone to sun fade.

Even though it was applied using a brush, early innovations in coatings technology by Ditzler improved the speed of automotive paint operations.

The lack of coatings that were easy to apply, more durable, and fast drying, became obvious handicaps to the efficient production of the motorcar. As advances in chemistry were discovered in the laboratory, advances in coatings technology were close behind. Nitrocellulose paints were developed in the early 1920s which greatly improved on earlier shortcomings in ease of application and drying time. The nitrocellulose used in these finishes is a very close relative to the explosive gun cotton used in smokeless powder in firearms cartridges. The starting substance is purified wood cellulose which is then processed by soaking in a mixture of sulfuric and nitric acids. The resulting material is used in enamels and lacquers. Nitrocellulose paints ushered in the practice of spray application and their drying time was significantly shorter. Another benefit to this advancement was that a larger number of colors became available. Chemistry’s next gift to the automotive finish industry was alkyd resins. These were used in the making of alkyd enamels. Alkyd resins were derived from glycerin processed from animal and vegetable fats. This glycerin was primarily used in explosives and in solvents such as those used in paint.

The alkyd enamels of the 1930s represented the early stages of what could be recognized as the modern process of automotive finishing. These enamels offered an excellent gloss finish and a reasonable color palette. As with previous advances in coatings, alkyd enamels were more durable, and of course, faster. When domestic development resumed after World War II, acrylic lacquers gave the OEM and refinish industries a quantum leap forward. Lacquer offered an exceptionally fast drying time compared to the early enamels. This translated into a significant productivity increase on assembly lines which facilitated automobile manufacturing to meet the high post-war demand. The acrylic lacquer formulation also brought an even greater expanse to available color formulations. Within a couple of decades, methods of using acrylic resins in enamel paints were developed and the age of technology was upon us. Enamels outperformed the lacquers by eliminating the buffing required after drying to achieve a high-gloss finish and also provided an improved resistance to UV damage.

They also benefited users by both retaining durability and outpacing the speed of the earlier application methods. The use of catalysts, which began shortly after the introduction of acrylic enamels, boosted performance up to 50 percent over lacquers. PPG has often had a hand in the development of new generations of OEM and refinish technology. An area in which they made a significant contribution during the 1970s was in primer systems. PPG pioneered cationic electrodeposition to combat the debilitating effects of corrosion on automobiles. This OEM landmark was responsible for largely negating the impact of rust on a vehicle’s expected lifespan. As automotive production finish techniques rushed into the ‘80s, paint development advanced with the introduction of the basecoat/clearcoat process. The interaction of purpose-driven processes and complementary catalysts led to the greatest advancements yet in finishes. This method resulted in greater durability, chip resistance and very high gloss. Application methods also advanced, allowing OEMs and refinish operations to realize the benefits of better quality products, easier handling application, and the always critical improvement in speed on all levels.

Often, advancements in finish technology have included advancements in environmental impact. PPG products are often in the forefront of addressing environmental concerns in automotive finishes. Advances in electrostatic and powder applications have helped OEMs improve production and quality in many different disciplines.

Now in the new century, the race is on again, and PPG is leading with Envirobase ™ Basecoat. With the introduction of Envirobase, PPG is revolutionizing the application of basecoat for the automotive refinish industry. Envirobase offers a number of benefits. It is easier to use, and offers excellent color-matching capabilities. As the name indicates, there is also a considerable improvement to the environmental aspect of the application resulting in a significant reduction in VOC. As has been the hallmark of all major advancements in automotive paint technology, Envirobase from PPG dries fast, which means it will be ready for topcoating that much sooner.

Envirobase is a waterborne basecoat that advances technology and chemistry to a new level. After decades of relying on chemical solvent-based formulations in automotive paints, PPG has turned the focus of development to a cleaner, simpler formulation that will drive the OEM and refinish industries deep into the new century, and do it faster.

Innovative products, such as Cationic Electrodeposition (top) and the latest waterborne basecoat - Envirobase™, are current examples of how automotive coatings from PPG continue to increase the painting process’ productivity.


A patent on a ‘carriage with gasoline engine’ is granted to Friedrich Benz of Germany. A year later, Gottlieb Daimler, also of Germany, unveils his internal combustion invention which has more horsepower than Benz’ machine. Who is the inventor or who is the innovator is a topic that is still hotly debated today.

All that is known is that the automotive era is born. Incidentally, it more or less became a moot point in 1926 when the legacy of both men merged into a car company of some note - Mercedes-Benz.


The federal government establishes, the U.S. Office of Road Inquiry - known today as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Oddly enough, it was formed at the urging of many bicycling organizations throughout the nation.


The fledgling American automotive manufacturing business takes off when the Duryea Brothers mass produce 13 automobiles.


First recorded car accident occurs when a Duryea vehicle collides with a bicyclist. Both participants were repaired. Hence, this is this first documented need for an automotive collision repair center.


Ditzler Color Company begins manufacturing coatings specifically for the automotive market.


Cadillac Motors begins operations. This new company is also Ditzler’s first automotive coatings customer. The shareholders of the Henry Ford Company become impatient and ousted Mr. Ford in favor of Henry Leland. The name of the new company is taken from Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, the first European settler to preside over the area known in French as “D’etroit” (day-twah) or “Of the Straits.”


American Automobile Association (AAA) is formed in Chicago.


After having shaken off the disappointment of being let go from his own namesake company, Henry Ford re-emerges with the Ford Motor Company. This time, however, Ford secures his position by retaining a controlling interest. Ditzler is a major paint supplier to the Ford Motor Company, especially during the heyday of the Model T. It was during this time that Ford reportedly said, “you can have any color car you want as long as it’s black.” This was not because Henry disliked color. On the contrary, the black paint he was using had faster drying qualities than other colors. Ford loved cars, but he loved high productivity even more. This hyper sense of production helped Henry set a car-building record of two million vehicles of the same make in 1923 that still stands today.


First manually operated traffic light installed in Detroit, MI. Later that year, a pole-mounted electric version controls the intersecting traffic at 105th and Euclid Avenues in Cleveland, Ohio.


Former bicycle manufacturers and early major suppliers of precision-engineered automotive components to the Ford Motor Company, the Dodge Brothers begin producing their own vehicles. In 1928, Walter P. Chrysler bought the company’s assets and melded several other car lines together to form the Chrysler Corporation.


Now familiar wire-suspended traffic lights hang over the streets of Detroit. The list of interesting historical facts could literally go on forever, but we all get the message - the automotive world was different back then. Were the old days better or worse is a matter of opinion and perspective. What is for sure is that PPG Automotive Finishes, whether known as Ditzler or PPG, continues to be on the forefront of innovation in product, application and business development for the collision repair center of today and tomorrow.

1902-Gas Not readily available2002-$1.10 gal.
1902-Milk 24¢ a gallon2002- $2.25
1902-Eggs 18¢ a dozen2002- $1.29
1902-Bread 5¢ a loaf (pound)2002- $1.99
1902-Butter 22¢ a pound2002- $4.50

The Ditzler Brothers

A primary focus of Ditzler had always been product development which was driven by anticipating customers’ needs.

Peter Ditzler began his career in 1872 as a paint shop apprentice for a Pennsylvania carriage factory. Eager to strike out on his own, he moved to Chicago and opened his own custom paint shop in 1880.

There he acted as a color expert for various coach and buggy makers. Three years later, he gained even more experience through a succession of supervisory jobs in carriage factories and paint plants in Chicago, Detroit and Newark, NJ. It was during this time that Peter began to grind and mix his own Japan colors and under coatings.

Peter’s brother, Fred, followed a similar path, with apprenticeships at carriage companies in Pennsylvania, New York and Detroit. For Fred, though, the emphasis was on mastering the fine art of paint application rather than color grinding and mixing.

All this experience was leading the brothers to one conclusion. They knew they could produce a better paint product than what they had seen over the years, one with better workability, quality and dependability. So in 1902, a year before Henry Ford organized his Ford Motor Company, the two decided to create a company of their own — the Ditzler Color Company at 40 W. Baltimore Ave. in Detroit.

Although the company’s first customers were carriage makers — the Pontiac Buggy Company followed closely by the Studebaker Brothers — it wasn’t long before the Ditzler name was closely linked to the emerging auto industry. The first automaker to utilize Ditzler Color systems was the Cadillac Auto Company in October 1902.

By 1913, automotive production had grown dramatically, and with it, demand for Ditzler products. Soon, the company was the leading producer of automotive finishes — a position that PPG still occupies today. The Ditzler brothers owned and operated the business until March of 1913, at which time they sold their interests to T. W. Conner and Associates.

Recognizing the need for speedier finishing systems, Ditzler Color laboratories began conducting research and development of low-viscosity nitrocellulose lacquer, a finish that lent itself to automobile production needs because of the speed with which it could be applied and dried. Before the introduction of this finish, cars were painstakingly painted by hand which, because the varnish dried so slowly, could take up to a month to complete!

In 1925, the company acquired property at 8000 W. Chicago Ave. in Detroit, where it built a factory for manufacturing the first Ditzler lacquer for automotive factory finishes. Ditzler Color Company was purchased by Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company in 1928, but continued to manufacture products under the Ditzler label as a subsidiary until 1968 when Pittsburgh Plate Glass was reorganized under the name of PPG Industries, Inc.

What would Peter and Fred Ditzler have thought of today’s high tech color matching tools and techniques? Or what of today’s dazzling new colors and specialty coatings like Harlequin ® and Prizmatique ® . One thing is certain:

They’d be proud to know that the Ditzler name — and its subsequent parent, PPG — remain synonymous with superb quality, dependability and beauty.