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Google Doodle honoring Sir William Henry Perkin on his birthday.

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Who is Sir William Henry Perkin?

Perkin invented the first synthetic dye, known as mauveine. Born on March 12, 1838, in London, Perkin inadvertently discovered the aniline purple dye when he was a scholar at the Royal College of Chemistry in London. He was studying following Wilhelm von Hofmann, a revered German chemist.

“Perkin was cleaning out dark muck from a glass after a failed experiment when he saw that the substance left a bright purple stain when diluted with alcohol,” the precise Google doodle page pointed out.

Perkin was trying to find a replacement for quinine, the only viable medical treatment for malaria in 1856, as demand was outpacing supply. However, his effort at making quinine from aniline, an economical coal tar waste, was broken. Instead, what appeared from the experiment was a dark substance.

Perkin was established in Shadwell in East London, the most recent of seven children born to affluent carpenter George Perkin and his Scottish wife Sarah.

Perkin further investigated, adding potassium dichromate and alcohol into the aniline in several stages, which resulted in a deep purple solution. He comprehended that the solution could be used to color fabric. He was ready to recognize the commercial possibility of the dye, originally described as Tyrian Purple.

Deep in purple, the doodle catches the violent frenzied fashion aims of that era as Perkin’s discovery made the high color easily available to the masses. Purple clothing was in trade and in style then, but was available only to a specific section who could afford it. Besides, the fading color was a dilemma. Queen Victoria is said to have used a mauveine-dyed gown to the Royal Exhibition of 1862. Following his expert in manufacturing, Perkin was knighted on the 50th anniversary of the discovery in 1906.   

In 1858 he and B.F. Dupa integrated glycine in the first workroom preparation of amino acid. They incorporated tartaric acid in 1860. After Graebe and Liebermann published their synthesis of the red dye alizarin, Perkin began a cheaper procedure, obtained a patent for his method, and maintained a monopoly on its manufacture for numerous years.

 In 1867 he created a chemical process for providing unsaturated acids. The next year he used this method, which became known as the Perkin reaction, to synthesize coumarin, the first synthetic perfume.

Aslo Read: Sir William Henry Perkin: How an 18-year-old accidentally discovered the first synthetic dye

He served the City of London School at the age of 14 and it was here that famous schoolmaster Thomas Hall first noticed his aptitude for chemistry and urged him to pursue its study.

A year later, William joined the Royal College of Chemistry (now part of Imperial College London) on Hall’s advice and studied under the famous German expert August Wilhelm von Hofmann.

Having a keen curiosity in photography and composition, Perkin realized his finding’s potential but originally kept it a secret from Hofmann as it symbolized the failure of his coursework.

Collaborating on its progress with his brother Thomas and friend Arthur Church from the bowels of his make-shift Cable Street laboratory, Perkin obtained the substance could be mass-produced and popularized.

Perkin showed considerable entrepreneurial spirit and prowess in establishing Britain’s then-booming textile industry to choose mauveine, raising capital, publicizing the dye to whip up trade and advising manufacturers on its utilization to cotton.

His problem was greatly helped when both Queen Victoria and Empress Eugenie of France wore mauveine-colored gowns on events of state – and by a fashion for hooped-skirts taking off.

In Later years, he spent rest of his career managing his business concerns and working on new synthetic dyes, giving new shades such as “Britannia Violet” and “Perkin’s Green”. He was later knighted for his actions before dying of pneumonia in 1907 after experiencing a burst appendix.