The Waterlox Story


The Hawkins family has worked for four generations to provide finishing solutions that enhance and protect the natural beauty of wood. We began manufacturing Waterlox products in 1910 by using the best ingredients and our original family formulas. Today, the tradition of quality continues with products that are handmade by our expert staff. Our experience is supported by a continuous dedication to satisfying our customers in the woodworking and wood flooring industries.

Our Humble Beginnings

Waterlox, a pioneer in the development of the coatings industry, was started in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1910 by R.L. Hawkins, Senior. He became involved in the industry as a Secretary and National Sales Manager of The Ohio Varnish Co. However, being an independent problem solver, he left that endeavor, and bought a small paint making operation named the Empire Varnish Company located on East 76th and Woodland, which would later become Waterlox Coatings Corporation. His new business discovered the values of tung oil and used it to create the specific formulations necessary to produce a full line of interior and exterior paints, varnishes, enamels and stains.

The Waterlox name originated with a promotional group in Detroit. In the 1930s, Empire Varnish acquired “Waterlox” and its business plan from the group, including the philosophy behind the product, its applications and range of possibilities. Empire Varnish took all of this newly attained information and applied it to its existing formulas to mark a pivotal point in the company’s history, one that made its Waterlox product what it is today.

R.L.’s son, Bob, also joined the company in the 30’s when he began working in the plant during the summer at age 15. Bob, who would later earn degrees in both chemical engineering and in industrial chemistry, eventually took over the company in the 1940’s. In the 1960’s, the Empire Varnish Company became Waterlox Chemical and Coatings Corporation. This decision was made because Waterlox, the company’s star product, was what it was best known for. In fact, everyone had already been calling them Waterlox.

Over the years, Waterlox expanded its production to manufacture a variety of products, from interior house paint and paint for car running boards to a penetrating sealer, gym floor finish, marine finish and outdoor wood finish. Bob even invented coatings for the rubber mats used in automobiles, as well as a revolutionary process in which the color coat and mat were all cured together in a mold.

Proud to own a Cleveland-based business, the Hawkins family could not see any advantage in doing business anywhere else. “The best part of doing business in Cleveland is location, location, location,” said Bob. The city is fairly central in the country making it ideal for receiving raw materials and shipping products. However, in 1963 Waterlox did move to the Passonno Hutcheson building on Meech Avenue, which remains its location today.

In the 90’s the company’s name changed again, from Waterlox Chemical and Coatings Corporation to Waterlox Coatings Corporation, as it remains today.

Still based in Cleveland, Waterlox is the nation’s leading manufacturer of premium wood finishes, handmade from natural resin-modified tung oil. A fourth-generation, family-owned company, now run by Chief Executive Officer Jay Hawkins and Vice President Kellie Hawkins Schaffner, Waterlox continues to manufacture products using the finest ingredients, combining tung oil, resins, mineral spirits and other ingredients to produce a complete wood finish that gives the look and feel of naturally oiled wood. Waterlox products represent the flooring industry’s highest level of quality protection for both interior and exterior wood finishing projects and supplies for application. For the most part, the company still makes its hand-made wood finishes the exact same way it did over 100 years ago.

Through the Years

1910 - Our Beginnings

R.L. Hawkins, Sr., establishes The Empire Varnish Company to produce a full line of exterior and interior paints, varnish, enamels and stains.

1930’s - Introducing Waterlox Products

The introduction of Waterlox Transparent leads to other tung oil-based finishes that become the company’s most prominent product line. The Waterlox Division is established.

1940’s - Family Pride

R.L. Hawkins, Jr., joins his father’s company full-time.

1960’s - Change and Development

The Empire Varnish Company becomes Waterlox Chemical and Coatings Corporation. R.L. Hawkins is named President.

1970’s & 1980’s- The Next Generation

J.W. Hawkins (3rd Generation) joins the company, becomes president (1985), and continues to run the company today.

1990’s - New Name, New Products

A name change to Waterlox Coatings Corporation signifies a continued commitment to delivering a new, expanded product line and a dedication to quality coatings.

2000’s - New Look

Waterlox launches a brand new look for its tung oil line of legendary wood finishes. Kellie Hawkins-Schaffner (4th Generation) joins the company, reaffirming the Hawkins family commitment to quality, value, reliability and knowledge.

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