Who is Sir William Henry Perkin?

Who is Sir William Henry Perkin?

The search engine and tech giant Google has honoured the British chemist Sir William Henry Perkin with a colourful sketch doodle on his 180th birthday.

So who was this brilliant man who turned the world from black and white to colour overnight? That same year, Sir William Henry Perkin patented the dye and set up an aniline manufacturing plant at Greenford Green near Harrow in London.

The passionate and talented chemist began working under the esteemed German chemist August Wilhelm von Hofmann - who made him his assistant.

In 1856 while carrying out a further experiments in his makeshift laboratory at his home in Cable Street, London, Perkin discovered that aniline, an low-priced coal tar waste product, could be used to produce a substance with a deep purple colour when combined with alcohol.

Perkin was a painting and art enthusiast and was delighted with this finding.

The discovery was significant as up until then fabrics had to be coloured with expensive natural substances, which could not be used in large quantities.

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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. Perkin found the colorful dye at the right time when the textile industry was at a high.

How was the dye discovered?

Perkin discovered Mauveine, the first synthetic dye at the age of 18.

Sir William Henry Perkin may not be a familiar name to many people, but the significance of his work lives on to this very day - he is best known for his accidental discovery of the first aniline dye: the purple mauveine.

Perkin was married twice and had an impressive seven children.

All three sons, William Jr, Arthur and Frederick, became chemists.

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