Miller Paint has been a part of the fabric of the Pacific Northwest for 130 years. Our company was founded on the creativity, innovation, and commitment to quality of a young artist from Germany, Ernest Miller.
In Portland in the late 1800s, there was not a local paint manufacturer. Paint was made and shipped from the East Coast, which lead to constant back orders and paint products not suited for the Pacific Northwest’s constant rain. Drawing on his artist background, Ernest began creating his own quality paints, using bright, durable colors crafted to withstand the Pacific Northwest climate. Word began to spread and soon Portlanders were asking for “Ernest Miller’s Paint”. Fast forward to today, Miller Paint is an employee-owned company with over 50 stores throughout the Oregon, Washington, and Idaho. Our paints are still manufactured locally in Portland, Oregon and continue to be known for outstanding quality and durability. Scroll through the timeline and share in our history.
Miller Paint Company has a rich heritage and history that began in Portland, Ore., in the late 1800s. The small family-owned business was founded by Ernest Carl Bernard Mueller, who left his native Germany in 1888 and arrived in Portland a year later. Trained as a scenic painter, Ernest was both talented and creative. He set up trade in Portland as a painter in 1890 and began working as a scenic artist and muralist in theaters around the city. The early 1890s brought a lot of personal transition for Ernest: He changed his last name from Mueller to Miller; he met and fell in love with Cathryne “Katie” Grassar; and together, they purchased a home and started a family.
Now a young entrepreneur with a growing family to support, Ernest began painting houses in addition to murals. Ernest found himself dissatisfied with the paint coming from the East Coast, where all paint was manufactured at the time; he was frustrated with back orders, limited colors and paint that was ill-suited for the region’s constant rain. So he began developing his own paints, using bright, durable ingredients and colors formulated to withstand the Pacific Northwest climate and delivered his paints throughout Portland by horse and carriage.
In 1895, Ernest set up his first storefront – Ernest Miller & Co. – and began selling paint and wallpaper. Customers throughout the expanding city began receiving deliveries of “Ernest Miller Paint” by horse and carriage. The company would move a couple of times due to flooding from the nearby Willamette River, eventually settling at the Love Building in downtown Portland, where it would remain until the mid-1920s.
In 1902, Ernest and his family moved across the Willamette River to Portland’s east side, where they built a new house and a barn with a stone mill for grinding pigments and making paint. As Portland continued to grow, so did Miller Paint’s operations.
In 1926, Miller Paint’s second location was built on S.E. Grand Ave. in the heart of the Central Eastside to house a new Miller Paint store, the manufacturing plant, and the corporate offices; the flagship store remains at the same location to this day.
Ernest Sr. passed away on August 4, 1937, a little more than a decade after the store on S.E. Grand Avenue was built. His three sons would continue their father’s legacy: Ernest Jr. took the reins from his father early on, managing the store for a long time. Herb is credited with designing the Miller Paint windmill logo, while Walt developed the very first company slogan, “Millers of Good Paint.” Walt would go on to manage Miller Paint until his death at the age of 90.
During World War II, Miller Paint joined in the war effort and manufactured paint for the U.S. Navy and the Merchant Marine.
Walt Miller, youngest son of Miller Paint’s founder Ernest Miller Sr., would start his day at the Grand Avenue store. At 2pm every afternoon, he would ride his bike over to Miller Paint’s downtown location on First Avenue and work there until closing. Walt managed Miller Paint until his death in 1990.
Miller Paint continued to grow and flourish, and by the 1970s, the company had expanded to three new stores in Ballard, Wash.; Beaverton, Ore.; and Vancouver, Wash.
Construction on what is now the current corporate headquarters and manufacturing plant, located on Whitaker Way in Northeast Portland, began in 1975, with manufacturing operations starting up in 1978.
The 1980s and 1990s saw seven new stores open in Oregon, along with the move of the corporate offices to Whitaker Way in 1995.
It was Walt Miller’s dream that Miller Paint become an employee-owned company. The foundation for employee ownership began in the early 1980s, when a company stock bonus plan was initiated to spread ownership to a broader base of Miller Paint employees. The adoption of the current Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP) in 1999, coupled with the November 2000 buyout of the last large block of individually owned stock, marked the start of a new era for Miller Paint.
Starting in 2000, Miller Paint grew from 190 employees to more than 300 and from 12 stores in Oregon and Washington to 55 stores in three states with expansion into Idaho in 2017.
Celebrating 130 years in business, Miller Paint is a leader in the paint manufacturing industry, with a foundation built on the trust of its customers, employee ownership, a focus on superior product quality, providing extraordinary customer service, and championing art in the community. They’ve done this all while servicing Ernest Miller’s original values and mission: Miller Paint is Made Here. For Here.