RSC - Advancing the Chemical Sciences



Chemical Industry
Scientist holds flask
The accidental discovery of mauveine gave birth to the synthetic dyes industry, revolutionized fashion, and sparked enormous interest in the commercial applications of chemistry.
ICI and BAYER logos
It was also indirectly responsible for enormous advances in medicine, perfumery, food, explosives, photography and other chemical products isolated from coal tar. As such it underpinned the growth of industrial giants such as AGFA, BASF, Bayer and ICI.
Molecular model
It also was a major step in the quest to understand molecular structures, which are at the heart of the chemical and pharmaceutical industries today.
In 1869, Perkin found a method to commercially produce alizarin. Several chemists were doing almost the same thing, particularly Heinrich Caro at the German company BASF (Badische Anilin- & Soda-Fabrik).
Alizarin dye in a dish
Perkin and BASF came to an agreement over the manufacturing processes (Perkin would sell alizarin to Britain, some 400 tons a year, BASF to the rest of the world).

In 1874, Perkin sold his dyeworks to Brooke, Simpson and Spiller.

In 1874, Caro and the academic chemist Adolf Baeyer published the modern structure of alizarin, an achievement that bound science with industry and from which emerged the industrial research laboratory.
Period street scene
Manufacture of synthetic dyes spread rapidly from England to France and Germany. German scientific discoveries drove natural dyestuffs from the commercial market and Germany came to dominate the dyestuffs industry, the profits from which then allowed them to branch out into pharmaceuticals and explosives.

Americans had to depend on German technology. The undeveloped state of chemical education and low skill levels in the workforce prevented the emergence of an American synthetic dye industry.
Allied blockade
By 1914 Germany produced about 75% of the world's supply of dyes and dyestuffs.

The Allied blockade of German shipping caused a "dye famine" in the U.S in 1916.

This situation was dramatically reversed by America's entry into the war, after which the US government seized German property, including dyestuff manufacturing firms based in this country, patents, and the industrial processes covered by them.

During the 1920s and 1930s the industry grew and diversified. This led to firms such as Du Pont moving from paints and dyestuffs to the search for synthetic fibres and a range of other products.
BASF logo
BASF, Bayer, AGFA (Aktiengesellschaft für Anilinfabrikation) and Hoechst, diversified from the production of dye products into pharmaceuticals.

Synthetic dyes were used as biological stains and were found to be helpful in the study of bacteriology and histology. The search for new colours stimulated the study of organic chemistry and, in turn, the search for new medicines.
The first half of an asprin molecule
The second half of an asprin molecule
Aspirin packet
The first synthetic medicine was acetophenetidine, marketed in 1885 as a pain-killer by Bayer at Leverkusen, Germany, under their brand name, Phenacetin.

Aspirin is a derivative of salicylic acid and was marketed in 1897. It was sold worldwide under the Bayer trade name to provide a new and useful treatment for "rheumatic pains".
Tissue sample
Paul Ehrlich (1854-1915) From work on staining animal tissues, he carried out pioneering work into haematology, immunology and chemotherapy. He also developed the first effective treatment of syphilis, Salvarsan. This work was one of the results of his great interest in the aniline dyes discovered by Perkin.

One of his most important discoveries was that chemical dyes derived did not just colour cells or tissues, but often combined with them to form a chemical reaction.

In 1882, he published his method of staining the tubercule bacillus, which enabled its diagnosis using a microscope.
Nobel Prize
His work on dyes established the search for a "magic bullet" in medicine - a drug that could highlight and then target specific disease-causing micro-organisms. This idea formed the basis of chemotherapy.

He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1908 for his later work on immunology.
In 1868, William Perkin synthesised coumarin from the South American tonka bean, a process known as the Perkin reaction . Perkin's coumarin became an important component of synthetic perfumes.

In 1874 Perkin dedicated himself to chemical research and from 1884 he did much work on the ability of magnetic fields to rotate plane-polarised light.