Friday, July 19, 2024


London scientists have always amazed the world with their incredible knowledge and amazing discoveries. Chemistry was developing quite rapidly in the 19th century. The history of the city reveals many outstanding chemists with their unique paths to success. One of the brightest representatives of this period is William Henry Perkin. His contribution to the development of science was really significant. The scientist started a new era in the chemical industry. What was his personal and professional life? What is known about his scientific activity? Why did he become famous all over the world? Learn more at london-future.

Childhood, education and the first scientific inventions

William Henry Perkin was born in London on March 12, 1838. His childhood was quite ordinary. He was born the youngest child in the family of a carpenter. At that time, almost all families, not only in London but throughout the country, were multi-children. In particular, William had six siblings. The boy received his primary education in one of the London schools. At that time, he got interested in chemistry. His teacher Thomas Hall recognised the boy’s talent for science and later motivated him to enter the Royal College of Chemistry. William was only fifteen years old when he started his studies there. Around the same age, he carried out his first chemical experiments. In 1856, he managed to achieve incredible success. While trying to produce quinine (a natural alkaloid with anti-inflammatory and antimalarial properties), William Henry Perkin accidentally synthesised the first purple dye, mauveine. In addition to making history and ushering in a new era of the chemical industry, this event also helped the scientist to establish his own production.

Scientist’s life full of chemistry

After the accidental invention of mauveine, William Henry Perkin developed processes for the production and use of this new dye. Already in 1857, he opened his own factory near London. All those events became an impetus for the invention of new dyes and the creation of similar factories in various European countries. In 1867, the scientist invented a method of obtaining aromatic unsaturated acids. The following year, he used this method to synthesise coumarin. Since then, this method has become known as the Perkin reaction. He also devoted a lot of attention to the research of other dyes, salicylic alcohol and perfume raw materials.

Photo source: Britannica

An important stage in the scientist’s life was the sale of his own production. It happened when William Henry Perkin was 36 years old. In such a way, he wanted to fully devote himself to scientific activity. After that, for a long time, he studied optical rotation (the ability of a substance to rotate the plane of polarisation of a light beam passing through it) of various substances. In the period from 1883 to 1885, he was the president of the Chemical Society, founded back in 1841. He was also a member of The Royal Society of London for the Improvement of Natural Knowledge. William Henry Perkin was married twice. He had three sons (all of whom became chemists) and four daughters. William Perkin’s contribution to science is really large. Thanks to him, the highly innovative, at that time, chemical industry of synthetic dyes developed significantly. It also affected the related pharmaceutical industry, which generally improved the quality of life of the population. Unfortunately, William Henry Perkin died of pneumonia in 1907. During his life, he received many awards, and after his death, a blue plaque was installed on the wall of his house. Nowadays, there is the Perkin Medal, which is awarded annually to the best scientists for their contribution to industrial chemistry.

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