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Topic section: Mauve as Innovation
TOPIC SECTION:
Mauve as innovation
Mauve became the first commercially successful synthetic dye because Perkin found a way of making the novel colorant on an industrial scale. He had to invent new processes and new equipment to make his pu
Image: Fabric sample dyed with synthetic alizarin made by Perkin in 1869

Fabric sample dyed with synthetic alizarin made by Perkin in 1869
Credit: Science & Society Picture Library

rple dye. Yet within a few years, mauve had been displaced by other dyes made from aniline: fuchsine (also called magenta), introduced in 1860, and Hofmann’s violet, patented by Perkin’s former professor in 1863.

The most significant watershed in the history of artificial dyes came in 1869 with the synthesis of alizarin, an important natural red dye hitherto m
by the 1980s the production of dyes had largely migrated to India and China.
ade from the madder plant. It was synthesised by two German chemists, Carl Graebe and Carl Liebermann, and independently by Perkin. The German firm BASF took over the work of Graebe and Liebermann and reached an agreement with Perkin for sharing markets and technical information. Within a few years, synthetic alizarin had almost displaced madder. Although Perkin held the British rights he sold his company at the end of 1873 and the British alizarin industry remained small. In Germany, however, the companies that made alizarin became the world leaders in syn
Image: Photograph of Hofmann (1818-1892) who became the first director of the Royal College of Chemistry in London in 1845. He was also chemist to the Royal Mint.
René Bohn (1862-1922) was born in Alsace and joined BASF in 1884. He discovered the indanthrene dyes. Credit: Science & Society Picture Library
thetic dyes.

The growth of the German industry was spurred by the development of a completely new type of dye - the azo dyes - in the late 1870s. The expertise built up while making synthetic dyes was put to good use when the first synthetic medicines were developed in the following decade.

For many years, the German dye companies tried to make synthetic indigo, the last surviving important natural dye. Although two firms succeeded in making synthetic indigo in the late 1890s, natural indigo was finally killed off by a completely new class of colour-fast dyes called indanthrenes, introduced by BASF in 1901.

During the 20th century the dyestuff industry created many new products - synthetic ammonia, synthetic rubber, plastics, pesticides, new types of drugs - and became the organic chemical industry. The American organic chemical industry became the equal of its German counterpart after the Second World War, but by the 1980s the production of dyes had largely migrated to India and China.

 
 
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Topic section: Mauve as Science
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East End teenager tries to make a drug from coal tar and ends up making a fortune from a completely new kind of dye…  > more

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Topic section: Mauve as icon
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In order to revive Britain’s reputation in the dye industry, the story of Perkin’s mauve was resurrected and promoted as a success during the anniversary of its discovery.  > more
 
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