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Sir William Henry Perkin: The man and his ‘Mauve’


Today we cannot imagine our lives without a variety of colours. Every colour we see, consume, enjoy, apply and use wherever we need has a dye associated with it. More than 90% of the thousands of dyes used now are synthetic. A little more than 150 years ago a handful of dyes of only natural origin were available. In 1856 the era of synthetic dyes was ushered in by a spirited young chemist, William Henry Perkin, when he was trying to synthesize quinine, but obtained a coloured substance instead. It was a much desired colour and therefore became an instant hit. The following is an account of Perkin’s life as a chemist and an industrialist par excellence.

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Suggested Reading

  1. I Holme, Sir William Henry Perkin: a review of his life, work and legacy, Color. Tehnol., Vol.122, pp.235–251, 2006.

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  2. For a historical perspective on quinine synthesis see, J I Seeman, The Woodword-Doering/Rabe-Kindler total synthesis of quinine: setting the record straight, Angew. Chem. Int.Ed., Vol.46, pp.1378–1413, 2007.

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  3. For the analytical composition of mauve see, M M Sousa, M J Melo, A J Parola, P J T Morris, H S Rzepa and J S S de Melo, A study in mauve: Unveiling Perkin’s dye in historic samples, Chem. Eur. J., Vol.14, pp.8507–8513, 2008.

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Additional information

N Nagendrappa was a professor of Organic Chemistry at Bangalore University, Bangalore, and Professor and Head of the Department of Medicinal Chemistry, Sri Ramachandra (Medical) University, Chennai, from where he recently retired. He is currently in Jain University, Bangalore. He continues to teach and do research. His work is in the area of organosilicon chemistry, synthetic and mechanistic organic chemistry, and claycatalysed organic reactions (Green Chemistry).

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Nagendrappa, G. Sir William Henry Perkin: The man and his ‘Mauve’. Reson 15, 779–793 (2010).

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  • Perkin
  • mauve
  • mauveine
  • quinine
  • dye