From Chance to Chromatic Wonder: The Surprising Story Behind the Discovery of Mauve
Updated: Nov 9
Sometimes, the best discoveries are made by accident.
Take the colour mauve, for example. That’s what happened to William Henry Perkin, a young chemist who was trying to make a new medicine for malaria. He ended up creating something completely different and unexpected: the world’s first synthetic dye.
Perkin was working on synthesizing quinine, a natural substance that can treat malaria. But his experiment failed and he was left with a brownish sludge at the bottom of his flask. He was about to throw it away when he noticed something interesting: the sludge had a purple tint. Curious, he decided to investigate further. He found out that the sludge was actually a purple pigment that he named mauveine. He realized that this was a valuable discovery. He patented his invention and started to produce and sell his dye.
Perkin became rich and famous with his discovery of mauve. He also started a revolution in the textile industry. His dye made it possible to create bright and cheap fabrics that were accessible to everyone. His invention also inspired other chemists to create more synthetic dyes of different colours.
Perkin changed the world with his mistake. He showed that sometimes mistakes can be good. You just have to see the opportunity in them. For more information on William Henry Perkin, see: https://www.sciencehistory.org/education/scientific-biographies/william-henry-perkin/