Sir William Henry Perkin dedicated a Google doodle on his birth anniversary

Eloise Marshall
March 12, 2018

Sir William Henry Perkin, who introduced brightly coloured clothing to the masses and laid the foundation of today's chemical and pharmaceutical industries was honoured by Google, on his 180th birthday, with a doodle on Monday. Perkin was trying to synthesize quinine for the treatment of malaria, but ended up becoming successful in the field of dyes after the discovery of purple mauveine.

He entered the Royal College of Chemistry, now part of Imperial College London, at the surprisingly young age of 15 in 1853.

Hence the people wearing purple in the Google Doodle, a color too expensive for most people to wear, he made accessible to nearly all. Various shades of pinks, lilacs and purple were at the height of fashion industry. As a British chemist and entrepreneur, he is best known for his accidental discovery of the first aniline dye popularly known as the purple mauveine.

At the Royal Exhibition of 1862, Queen Victoria herself wore a mauveine-dyed gown. Perkin further probed, adding potassium dichromate and alcohol into the aniline in various stages, which resulted in a deep purple solution.

Perkin was married twice and had an impressive seven children. Empress Eugenie, the wife of Napoleon III, was also one of the leading trendsetters in Europe. He was unsuccessful in his attempt to synthesise quinine but in a related reaction a mysterious dark sludge was produced.

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Sadly when he discovered the brilliant red dye alizarin, he was beaten to getting a patent for it by a German company called BASF, and Germany quickly gained a monopoly on the manufacture and selling of dyes, forcing Perkin to sell off his holdings and retire. Perkin had accidently invented the first synthetic dye.

A 1906 painting of Perkin by Sir Arthur Stockdale Cope hangs in the National Portrait Gallery. Perkin originally named his dye Tyrian purple but is now commonly known as mauve. Today it is acknowledged as the highest honour in American industrial chemistry.

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

The scientist died in 1907 of pneumonia and other medical repercussions of a burst appendix.

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