It’s hard to imagine a world without colourful clothing and bright designs today, but do we really think about how it all started? Sir William Henry Perkin is known for his contribution to the pharmaceutical and chemical industries but he discovered the synthetic dye when he was just 18.
Over a century after his death, Google is remembering the entrepreneur and chemist who went on to set up a factory for industrially manufacture synthetic dyes. The invention which changed how people would dress was an accidental one.
Sir William Henry Perkin was born on March 12, 1938 and was inquisitive since he was a child. His interest in chemistry developed at an old lab at his grandfather’s house at a young age.
He got into the Royal College of Chemistry when he was just 15 and his potential was spotted by German chemist August von Hofmann who made Perkin his assistant. It was there that Perkin started trying to synthesise quinine which was used for the treatment of malaria.
Despite unsuccessful efforts at making quinine from aniline, Perkin found a mysterious dark sludge. Incorporating potassium dichromate and alcohol in it gave him a deep purple solution.
The dye was originally named Tyrian Purple but is now commonly known as mauve. Perkin patented the product and started manufacturing it in Greenford. The Perkin Medal was established in 1906 around 50 years after mauveine was discovered and is the highest honour in American industrial chemistry.