Budeke's Paint operated in the same storefront on Broadway from 1870 up until 2018. Unfortunately, in the early morning hours of September 7, 2018 a fire broke out on the first floor and grew into a four-alarm blaze that destroyed the stock, a collection of documents and ephemera, and the building’s interior. Fortunately, the fire caused no injuries and the business has continued operations at its Timonium location. During Budeke’s long history, its paint has been used by institutions as diverse as Johns Hopkins Hospital, Bethlehem Steel, McCormick & Co, and the U.S. Coast Guard. Local governments, including Baltimore City and County, have used Budeke’s products in municipal buildings including City Hall.
George H. Budeke was born in 1846 in Hamilton, North Carolina, to a family of German immigrants. He moved to Baltimore in 1859, a year after his father’s death, and became an errand-boy at a dry goods store before moving on to manage two paint stores. Budeke founded his company in 1868 just three years after the end of the Civil War. The business has stayed in the family through five generations. Upon the death of George H., the business passed to his son, George M. Budeke, in 1909. It then passed to a son-in-law, George Gardner, who took over in 1956. Gardner passed the business on to his own son-in-law, Louis V. Koerber, in 1969. Finally, the current owner, L. Bryan Koerber, took over the business from his own father in 1996.
While most customers buy pre-mixed paint today, Budeke's originally sold the essential ingredients separately—turpentine, white or red lead, and a variety of earthen pigments—that contractors used to mix their own paints. Different ratios of the components determined whether painters used the mixture as primer or a top coat. Budeke obtained its stock regionally, including from a number of small pigment grinders who turned raw minerals into various colors out of their shops on Russell Street (near where the Horseshoe Casino now stands). In those days, lead was commonly used as the hiding agent in paint to ensure the pigment covered over the surface that was being painted, but fell out of use due to its toxicity. Lead paint was eventually banned in the United States in the 1970s and replaced with product that uses titanium dioxide instead.
The fire at the original location of Budeke’s destroyed more than a few of old buildings. It also wiped out much of the history of the business. A room on the second floor of its Fells Point shop was a little museum containing artifacts relating to its decades of operation. One noteworthy item on display was a bill from September 10, 1888, for an order by Baltimore’s health department, which consisted of a long list of items totaling $11.92. The corresponding cancelled check for this order, dated September 17, 1888, was found during renovations of City Hall in the 1970s. The contractor who was charged with disposing of old files reviewed some of what he had and realized the businesses still existed and might want the old paperwork. After presenting the old check to the shop on Broadway, Budeke's staff gave the contractor a gallon of paint for his trouble.