Synthetic Dye

As the Industrial Revolution gained steam (OK – bad pun), England’s population became denser. Eventually, the resulting pools of water bred mosquitos that eventually became a malaria epidemic.

Perkin, a 15-year-old student, ran crude experiments to create lower-cost quinine, a malaria medicine. One of his processes accidentally produced a strong purple liquid. Useless as a medicine, Perkin suspected it might work as a fabric dye.

Expensive and difficult to produce fabric dyes, that produced dull colors which faded fast, dominated before Perkin. Purple was especially difficult to produce, so expensive only royalty and the extremely wealthy wore purple clothing. Perkins innovation lowered the cost and increased the quality of eyes.

However, Perkin’s inexpensive dye not only created a strong purple color but it also withstood sun and repeat washing. He abandoned his studies, patented his dye at the age of 18, and opened a dye factory. Bright colors for the inexpensive cotton fabric, produced by the machines of the Industrial Revolution, became commonplace.

Perkin eventually created more artificial dyes and, later, perfumes. His dye factory was a commercial success. The Perkin Medal, named after him, remains a prestigious award for industrial chemists.