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Aerosol paint inventor still mass-producing here

SYCAMORE – When he was younger, Jon Larson didn’t realize that the company that invented aerosol spray paint and still produced millions of cans a year was located in his small town.

But after years of commuting to jobs in the aerospace and packaging industry, Larson started looking for work in manufacturing closer to home and found Seymour of Sycamore, Inc. right in his backyard.

“It’s funny that a town this size, something like that was invented here,” said Larson, the company’s vice president of manufacturing. “It’s just like DeKalb with the barbed wire.”

Tucked away just off Route 64, Seymour of Sycamore, Inc. has managed to keep a low profile despite being a leader in its industry.

Edward Seymour invented aerosol spray paint in 1949 as a way to apply his new aluminum paint to radiators. Nancy Seymour Heatley, the current president and CEO of the company and Edward’s daughter, took over the family business after Edward’s death in 1998.

“There is an urban legend that says my mother was using what they called bug bomb and said, ‘Hey, why don’t you put paint in an aerosol can?’ “Heatley said. “I have no idea if that is true.”

Apparently, Edward Seymour never refuted that story.

“He and someone named Mark [Werthwein] who had a machine shop here in Sycamore actually made the equipment to fill the paint inside an aerosol can.”

Seymour’s invention spawned a global industry that produces hundreds of millions of cans of paint every year, making it one of the most significant inventions not only in DeKalb County history, but in the history of manufacturing worldwide.

“There have been a couple companies that put on their website that they are inventors of aerosol spray paint, but we’re the first,” Larson said. “Everyone in the industry knows we invented it.”

The Seymour paint factory was originally in downtown Sycamore, but moved to its current location at 917 Crosby Ave. in 1964. The current headquarters and manufacturing facilities total 220,000 square feet. At peak production, they employ 150 workers and can produce over 200,000 cans of paint a day. Their products, which are shipped all over the world under a variety of brand names, are all manufactured in their Sycamore facilities.

“A lot of engineering and professionals go into making that one can of paint to make sure it’s perfect for when you buy it at the store,” Larson said.

Summer is their busy time, because of the demand for field-marking paint for baseball, football and soccer fields around the country.

For many people, however, the first things that come to mind when you mention spray paint are graffiti and ozone-destroying CFC’s. Seymour has worked hard to clean up that reputation. They sell graffiti remover and concrete and asphalt repair products, and company officials say they pride themselves on being proactive when it comes to protecting the environment, removing components from products if they are found to be detrimental.

“I think people take pride that Seymour Paint is made right here in Sycamore, Illinois, especially for the people who have worked here 25 to 30 years,” Larson said. “The people who stay here are really loyal to Seymour. We’re built on our employees.”

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