Although he was a chemist, William Henry Perkins’ lasting discovery had a lot less to do with science, and a lot more to do with fashion. Google celebrates what would have been the man who essentially invented purple’s 180th birthday on Monday (March 12) by paying homage on the site’s homepage.
At the age of only 18, Perkins was working on creating a potential cure for malaria in London in a university lab — a feat that evaded him despite several attempts. However, while cleaning out a beaker after a failed experiment, he noticed that when mixed with alcohol, the leftover substance made a deep and vivid purple dye. And the rest is fashion history.
The color purple was a luxury shade at the time, only donned by the wealthiest and the most influential. However Perkin’s discovery not only made it readily available at the height of the textile industry’s dominance, but his rich mauve — what he referred to as “mauveine” — was more lasting and deeper than any shade prior. Queen Elizabeth wore one of Perkins’ purple creations to the Royal Exhibition in 1862, and since then lilac, plum, violet and periwinkle have remained obvious mainstays in cloth creations.
Read the full story on the man behind it all here.