William Henry Perkin (1838-1907)

Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

William Henry Perkin was an English chemist, one of the founders of the modern chemical industry.

In 1856, as an 18-year-old chemistry student, Perkin tried to synthesise quinine, a substance used for the treatment of malaria. Instead he found that he had created a purple dye, which he later called mauveine. He developed a process to manufacture this dyestuff on a large scale, in a factory rather than a laboratory, and it became a great commercial success.

In recognition of his contributions to science, Perkin was elected to the Royal Society in 1866 and knighted in 1906. His enterprise was important because it helped to establish the modern chemical industry. Many other companies were founded, encouraged by Perkin's success; they adopted his new methods of chemical synthesis on a large scale. While Perkin's own effort to produce a medical substance failed, work such as his was crucial for the establishment of the pharmaceutical industry