Dividend-paying companies are an oasis in the desert of underperforming stocks. They offer solid payouts today and the promise of capital gains tomorrow. According to a study by Ibbotson, reinvested dividends made up about 40% of total stock returns from 1926 to 2006. In fact, dividend investing is so appealing that superinvestor Warren Buffett has made it a significant component of his portfolio.

When searching for great dividend stocks, it makes a lot of sense to start with companies that have been playing the dividend game the longest. Standard & Poor's has culled the dividend winners from the also-rans in a list it calls the "dividend aristocrats."

Let's examine the top dividend aristocrats by yield in the materials industry. For context, I've also included their five-year annualized dividend growth rate.

Company

Yield

Five-year dividend growth

Bemis (NYSE: BMS)

3.0%

5.0%

Air Products & Chemicals (NYSE: APD)

2.6%

8.9%

PPG Industries (NYSE: PPG)

2.4%

3.2%

Sherwin Williams (NYSE: SHW)

1.7%

11.9%

Ecolab (NYSE: ECL)

1.4%

12.0%

Sigma-Aldrich (Nasdaq: SIAL)

1.1%

11.0%

Source: Capital IQ, a division of Standard & Poor's.

These aren't formal recommendations -- just ideas for your own further research. Still, they could give you a great start toward finding companies capable of paying rising dividends for a quarter-century or more. You can see the fastest-growing 2011 aristocrats here.

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Jim Royal, Ph.D., does not own shares of any company mentioned here. Sherwin-Williams is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor pick. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.