Perkin, Sir William Henry

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b. 12 March 1838 London, England
d. 14 July 1907 Sudbury, England
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English chemist, discoverer of aniline dyes, the first synthetic dyestuffs.
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He early showed an aptitude for chemistry and in 1853 entered the Royal College of Chemistry as a student under A.W.von Hofmann, the first Professor at the College. By the end of his first year, he had carried out his first piece of chemical research, on the action of cyanogen chloride on phenylamine, which he published in the Journal of the Chemical Society (1857). He became honorary assistant to von Hofmann in 1857; three years previously he had set up his own chemical laboratory at home, where he had discovered the first of the azo dyes, aminoazonapththalene. In 1856 Perkin began work on the synthesis of quinine by oxidizing a salt of allyl toluidine with potassium dichromate. Substituting aniline, he obtained a dark-coloured precipitate which proved to possess dyeing properties: Perkin had discovered the first aniline dye. Upon receiving favourable reports on the new material from manufacturers of dyestuffs, especially Pullars of Perth, Perkin resigned from the College and turned to the commercial exploitation of his discovery. This proved highly successful. From 1858, the dye was manufactured at his Greenford Green works as "Aniline Purple" or "Tyrian Purple". It was later to be referred to by the French as mauve. Perkin's discovery led to the development of the modern dyestuffs industry, supplanting dyes from the traditional vegetable sources. In 1869, he introduced two new methods for making the red dye alizarin, in place of the process that involved the use of the madder plant (Rubia tinctorum). In spite of German competition, he dominated the British market until the end of 1873. After eighteen years in chemical industry, Perkin retired and devoted himself entirely to the pure chemical research which he had been pursuing since the 1850s. He eventually contributed ninety papers to the Chemical Society and further papers to other bodies, including the Royal Society. For example, in 1867 he published his synthesis of unsaturated organic acids, known as "Perkin's synthesis". Other papers followed, on the structure of "Aniline Purple". In 1881 Perkin drew attention to the magnetic-rotatory power of some of the substances he had been dealing with. From then on, he devoted particular attention to the application of this phenomenon to the determination of chemical structure.
Perkin won wide recognition for his discoveries and other contributions to chemistry.
The half-centenary of his great discovery was celebrated in July 1906 and later that year he received a knighthood.
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Principal Honours and Distinctions
Knighted 1906. FRS 1866. President, Chemical Society 1883–5. President, Society of Chemical Industry 1884–5. Royal Society Royal Medal 1879; Davy Medal 1889.
Bibliography
26 August 1856, British patent no. 1984 (Aniline Purple).
1867, "The action of acetic anhydride upon the hydrides of salicyl, etc.", Journal of the Chemical Society 20:586 (the first description of Perkin's synthesis).
Further Reading
S.M.Edelstein, 1961, biography in Great Chemists, ed. E.Farber, New York: Interscience, pp. 757–72 (a reliable, short account).
R.Meldola, 1908, Journal of the Chemical Society 93:2,214–57 (the most detailed account).
LRD

Biographical history of technology. - Taylor & Francis e-Librar. . 2005.

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