Sir William Henry Perkin Google Logo

Google celebrates what would have been the man who essentially invented purple's 180th birthday on Monday (March 12) by paying homage on the site's homepage. There Perkin started experimenting in synthesising quinine used in the treatment of malaria. Mr Perkin gave the world "mauveine", the world's first synthetic dye, used for colouring fabrics. That is, until Sir William Henry Perkin accidentally discovered aniline dyes, the most famous of which is known as mauveine. He noticed that the substance left a vivid purple stain when diluted with alcohol. Being at the peak of post-industrial revolution, Perkin's discovery happened to be at the appropriate time.

Furthermore, the colour purple had been a signifier of aristocracy, prestige and even royalty since ancient times, and it had been especially expensive and hard to produce as the requisite dye, Tyrian purple, since it was made from the glandular mucus of certain molluscs. The colour mauve became the rage as ladies of fashion adopted the new hue that resulted in a violent fashion craze.

After finding that the substance could dye silk permanently without washing out, they called their new chemical discovery mauveine and after sending a sample to a dye works in Perth, Perkin filed for a patent on it when he was still just 18.

After making relative riches from manufacturing, Sir William Henry Perkin turn to researching and studying chemical processes and was knighted in 1906, 50 years after his accidental discovery. Queen Elizabeth wore one of Perkins' purple creations to the Royal Exhibition in 1862, and since then lilac, plum, violet and periwinkle have remained obvious mainstays in cloth creations.

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.

Vanessa Coleman

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