Celebrating 100 Years: How Rust-Oleum got started

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In the early 20th century, a young Scottish boy named Robert Fergusson dreamed of sailing on one of the ships that docked in Glasgow harbor near his home. Robert signed up as a cabin boy when he was 12 and worked his way up to seaman and eventually captain. As seaman, one of his duties was to keep the exposed metal on the ship shiny and free of rust. The standard method at the time was to coat the metal in fish oil, but this dried very slowly and left a strong odor. Robert became obsessed with finding a better solution and tried many different types of fish oils. 

At the end of World War I, at the port of New Orleans, Captain Fergusson became custodian of a laid-up fleet of 100 ships. This opportunity provided a floating laboratory for his experiments. Using a ship’s galley to cook different fish oil resins, Ferguson tested hundreds of combinations before finally perfecting a fish oil coating that stopped rust, dried overnight, and had no lingering aroma.

In 1921, Captain Fergusson retired from sea duty to set up the “Anti-Rust Paint Company” in New Orleans, and as they say, the rest is history! He sold his clear oil formula as a rust-inhibitive additive to standard paints or as a sealer coat to prepare rusted surfaces for paint application. Throughout the ‘20s, he invested in facilities and equipment to expand production. Sales also expanded beyond New Orleans to Baton Rouge, Shreveport, and cities as far away as Mobile, Birmingham, Memphis, and Houston.
By the mid-90s, the Rust-Oleum brand name still loomed larger than the company itself. The Fergusson family fervently hoped that a merger with our now parent company, RPM, would provide the resources for continued growth and success. To think we started with just 24 colors of rust preventive paint and now have over 10,000 SKUs across 11 platforms is nothing short of remarkable.

Even more gratifying – the caring culture of Rust-Oleum lives on. The qualities demonstrated by Captain Fergusson more than a hundred years ago – courage, perseverance, and integrity – shine through all those who have guided our ship on this miraculous journey through ten decades. After years of innovation, Rust-Oleum continues to develop groundbreaking solutions with the trusted quality our customers expect and deserve. Because after 100 years, we’re just getting started, and the best of who we are is still in the making!