The Invention of a Color?

In my opinion, one of the weirdest inventions that I have ever heard of was the invention of mauve. Like the pinkish-purple color mauve. If you want to get technical, the color itself was not actually invented—obviously the color itself had existed and it was merely discovered by accident. But the true invention was how the color was captured and produced for everyday use, something that had not been possible before.

This mauve.

In 1853, fifteen-year-old William Henry Perkin began his schooling at the Royal College of Chemistry in London under the direction of August Wilhelm von Hofmann. Three years later, in an attempt to synthesize quinine—a compound used to treat malaria—Perkin decided that he would perform some additional experiments. It was these additional experiments that created the most intense purple color that Perkin had ever seen. An art enthusiast, Perkin decided that he wanted to find a way to mass produce this compound as a dye which could be used in painting. He called his mixture mauveine, and it was immediate hit, due to the expensive nature of other purple dyes during this time period. As purple was a color attributed to royalty, mauveine became immediately successful in the commercial market.

As the first synthetic organic chemical dye, mauveine opened an entirely new market for man-made clothing dyes and paints. Without this accidental discovery, it may have taken years before another scientist felt the desire to experiment with synthetic dyes, and the clothing market would have been years behind in its products. Additionally, these mad-made dyes are much cheaper than any other kind of natural dying agent, and therefore have lowered the cost of clothing, paint, and many other items that we use every day. All thanks to the random experiments of an eighteen-year-old boy, who “invented” a color.

5 thoughts on “The Invention of a Color?

  1. Sarah Mistele

    How do you get from malaria medicine to synthetic dyes? Seriously though, this guy makes me feel like such a slacker; not enough that he’s helping cure malaria, he also revolutionizes the fashion industry forever. No fair.

  2. Eric Tschantz

    I love the fact that the person was researching a very noble field, trying to come up with a compound to treat a deadly disease, but then when he finds a beautiful, new color, he completely drops his medical aspirations and goes into mass production of this color. I feel like he went from a noble deed to an insignificant one.

  3. Molly Eckman

    We always would talk in church about purple clothes having special symbolic significance because it was so expensive to make, and when I was younger i thought it was so weird because I had tons of purple clothes. I guess we have William Perkin to thank for that…

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