Sir William Henry Perkin – Biography


Sir William Henry Perkin (born March 12, 1838 in London, England, died on July 14, 1907 in Sudbury, near Harrow, Middlesex), a British chemist who discovered aniline dyes.

In 1853, Perkin entered the Royal College of Chemistry in London, where he studied with August Wilhelm von Hofmann. While Perkin worked as Hofmann’s laboratory assistant, he undertook the synthesis of quinine. He obtained instead a bluish substance with excellent dyeing properties that would later be known as purple aniline, Tyria purple or mallow. In 1856 he obtained a patent to manufacture the dye, and the following year, with the help of his father and his brother Thomas, he established an aniline manufacturing plant near Harrow.
Sir William Henry Perkin
In 1858 he and B.F. Duppa synthesized glycine in the first laboratory preparation of an amino acid. They synthesized tartaric acid in 1860. After Graebe and Liebermann announced their synthesis of alizarin red dye, Perkin developed a cheaper procedure, obtained a patent for its process and maintained a monopoly on its manufacture for several years. In 1867 he discovered a chemical process to prepare unsaturated acids. The following year he used this process, which became known as Perkin’s reaction, to synthesize coumarin, the first artificial perfume. He also investigated other dyes, salicylic alcohol and flavorings.

Around 1874 he left manufacturing and devoted himself to research, not only studying chemical processes but also investigating the optical rotation of various substances. He was knighted in 1906, the 50th anniversary of his discovery of mallow.

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