Sir William Henry Perkin

Sir William Henry Perkin

Purple- The Colour of Aristocracy

Before the Industrial Revolution took England by storm, purple was the colour of aristocracy. To produce purple dye, small mollusks were used. But, the Tyre region of Mediterranean Sea was the only region in the world where mollusk was available.And that became a huge problem, as 9,000 mollusks would produce just one gram of Tyrian purple.  Also, the rarity and the cost of the dye made it inaccessible to anyone other than royalty. But one man was about to change all of that!

The Accidental Discovery

William Henry Perkin (12th March 1838- 14th July 1907) was an English chemist who, through his accidental discovery, introduced Mauviene to the world. At the age of 18, Perkin accidently discovered that when alcohol is extracted from a crude mixture of aniline, the result is a deep purple colour. And this discovery occurred while he was trying to create synthesized quinine, an expensive natural substance that would help to treat and cure malaria.  He named the extracted dye as mauviene. Perkin filed for a patent in 1865.

With the advent of Industrial Revolution in England, mauviene became a popular substitute for Tyrian purple.

Even royal figures such as Queen Victoria and Empress Eugenie adopted the synthesized version of the expensive dye. Mauveine became accessible to the common people with the arrival of crinoline as a fashion trend.

The great accidental discovery led to the production of many other colour dyes, including alizarin, a red dye. It made Perkin wealthy. It also gave the world an accessible option in place of expensive dye. Plus, it created a whole new benchmark in itself. Here’s to Sir William Henry Perkin, the man who made the wrong discovery at the right time!

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