Sir William Henry Perkin is a British chemist who takes credit for discovering the synthetic dye mauveine. He is considered the father of the synthetic dye and perfume industry. A mistake that he did when he was a student of the Royal College of London, became a world discovery and today we see the color purple somewhere or the other around us. Made from aniline, the organic dye mauveine became a major hit when his actual attempt was towards the chemical synthesizing of quinine as a treatment for malaria.
The discovery was done by Sir William Henry Perkin at the very young age of 18. He then, later, on gave a huge contribution to the industry of fashion and the growth and expansion of the field make a remarkable entry by this entrepreneur’s dye industrial factory. Thus, William Perkin is an inspiration towards many for revolutionizing the world of fashion with his amazing accidental discovery of the synthetic dye.
Early Years and Personal Life of William Perkin
Sir William Henry Perkin was born o 12th March of 1838 at the East End of London, England. He was the 7th last and the youngest son for his successful carpenter father George Perkin, who had a fairly wealthy lifestyle. He had Sarah, a Scottish descendent as his mother, who had moved to East London at her young ages.
William Perkin had a baptism done in the Anglican parish church of St Paul’s, Shadwell which was popular for its connected famous personalities such as Jane Randolph who was the mother of Thomas Jefferson, John Wesley, James Cook, and a lot more people.
Perkin joined the City of London School and was taught by Thomas Hall, who had fostered a scientific skill and talent to the 14-years-old and had encouraged him a lot to pursue a career itself inside the chemistry fields.
In the year 1853, William Perkin entered the Royal College of Chemistry in London, at a very age of 15, where he studied under August Wilhelm Von Hofmann. He was a revered German chemist who researched and contributed to the studies about the famous aniline and its features. While Perkin was working as a laboratory assistant in Hofmann’s laboratory, he was about to undertake the synthesis of quinine. He instead accidentally got a bluish substance with an excellent property for dyeing. This later came to be called the aniline purple, Tyrian purple, or mauve.
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Concerning his family, Sir William Henry Perkin married Jemima Harriet who was the daughter of John Lissett, in the year 1859. Arthur George Perkin and William Henry Perkin Junior were the 2 sons born to the couple. He had a second marriage with Alexandrine Caroline the daughter of Helman Mollwo in the year 1866. They also gave birth to a child named Frederick Mollwo Perkin and had 4 daughters.
A Fortunate Accident as a Discovery
In the process of synthesizing quinine, Sir William Henry Perkin and his professor August Wilhelm Von Hofmann were arranging a few chemical compounds which, at that time, were not even fully established in their inventions. So, trying to achieve an inexpensive natural substance as the treatment for malaria, during the time of Easter vacation, William Perkin still worked from his crude laboratory from his apartment’s top floor in Cable Street at East London. This was the time he accidentally exposed something.
Sir William Henry Perkin discovered a purple color substance formed when aniline is partly transformed into a crude mixture which was extracted from alcohol. Due to his keen personal interest for photography and arts, William Perkin along with his brother Thomas and his friend Arthur Church undertook further experimentation over this accident. Since this was not intended to be researched, the trio carried out their scientific experiments in a small hut present in Perkin’s garden so as to maintain secrecy from his professor Hofmann.
Mauveine was the term they named for this dye which they had ideas to commercialize and expose it to the clothing industry. Further researching the trio also found out that it dyed silk well in a way which could be stable when exposed under sunlight or even washed with water. They sent some of their secret project samples to a dye works in Perth, Scotland and received a promising note from Robert Pullar who was the general manager there. Sir William Henry Perkin thus filed for a patent on August 1856, when he was only 18 years.
Only certain lichens, bat guano, and molluscs could provide with the purple dye ‘Tyrian Purple’ and so the dyes which were extracted from these natural substances were particularly expensive in cost. Purple was also at the same time was seen as the symbol color of prestige and aristocracy. William Perkin and his brother thus realized that they have found out a good substitute for this tough and costly extraction method through mauveine.