British Chemist Sir William Henry Perkin Honoured With Doodle On Birth Anniversary

Mindy Sparks
March 12, 2018

Celebrating the 180th birthday of British chemist Sir William Henry Perkin, today's Google Doodle features the purple colour to commemorate his accidental invention of the first synthetic dye. Born in England on March 12, 1838, Perkin was 18 when he quite accidentally discovered the mauveine while cleaning a dark much from a beaker after a failed experiment.

Perkin was trying to find a substitute for quinine which was the only feasible medical treatment for malaria in 1856 because the demand for it was exceeding the supply. He figured that the solution could be used to colour fabric. The dye was originally named tyrian purple but later became commonly known as mauve.

The colour purple was a mark of aristocracy and its long-time association with royalty, and so Perkin managed to garner commercial success with the discovery of the rich purple colour.

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. Besides, the fading colour was a problem.


Queen Victoria herself wore a mauveine-dyed gown to the Royal Exhibition of 1862, making Perkin's invention a huge hit. He received knighthood on the 50th anniversary of his serendipitous discovery.

During the rest of his life Perkin manufactured other synthetic dyes including Britannia Violet and Perkin's Green, as well as discovering the first synthetic perfume chemical coumarine. He died on July 14, 1907.

The chemist had made the discovery in the midst of the Industrial Revolution and coal tar, the main source of his raw material, was being produced in large quantities as a waste product.

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