History of Textile Dyes

Before 1856 all dyes were natural, either created by plants, bugs, or shells. For example the color purple was very expensive, made by using crushed shells and therefore only worn by royalty for the most part, until a groundbreaking discovery in fashion history occurred in the London laboratory of 15 year old William Henry Perkin, in 1856. 

During failed efforts to synthesize quinine, a highly sought after cure for malaria, the first synthetic dye was born. He found that aniline, a very prevalent byproduct of coal-gas production created a thick tar-like liquid with a purple-red color. This color became known as mauve and was added to cosmetics, food, and drugs in addition to clothing. Following this discovery were a number of other synthetic colors, also derived from coal-tar and this labelled the coal-tar colors, and the coal tar era. 

It wasn’t until many years later that these colors were tested for toxicity and eventually banned in most countries. Unfortunately, coal-tar, and other toxic substances are still used in products, drugs, and food in America today.

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