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William Perkin

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Sir William Henry Perkin was a chemist born in Shadwell in 1838 and died in 1907. He is chiefly remmbered for his discovery, at the age of 18, of the first aniline dye, mauveine[?].

He was educated at the City of London School before studying at the Royal College of Chemistry (now part of Imperial College, London), where he was appointed Honorary Assistant to one of the professors.

He conducted much of his early research in a laboratory at his home where, during his Easter vacation in 1856, he attempted to synthesise quinine. However, he obtained aniline purple, a dark precipitate which was found to easily dye materials. Named mauveine[?], this was the first synthetic dye.

A factory to produce mauveine, Perkin & Sons, was set up on the banks of the Grand Union Canal in 1857.

Perkin synthesised many more new dyes, including Britannia Violet, Perkin's Green and the red dye Alizarin, although the German company BASF patented his process. Perkin and BASF agreed to a split in the manufacturing of the dyes (Perkin to Britain, BASF to the rest of the world), but in 1874 Perkin sold his factory and continued his research in organic chemistry. Among his 60+ papers are his discovery of the Perkin reaction[?] and his synthesis of the synthetic perfume coumarin.

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