There's a reason today's Google Doodle emphasizes the color purple: The man the Doodle honors, Sir William Henry Perkin, discovered the first synthetic dye, the violet-hued "mauveine". The illustration decorating the search engine's homepage begins in black and white, and turns shades of purple and pink as your eyes move from left to right. Perkin, who orchestrates this change, is depicted at the far right, also clad in purple
The British chemist was just 18 years old when he discovered the dye in 1856. It wasn't intentional, and was instead a very fortunate, career-defining accident. According to the Royal Society of Chemistry, Perkin was a student at London's Royal College of Chemistry at the time. He worked as an assistant to August Wilhelm Hofmann, who was researching ways to create quinine, a drug used to treat malaria. After one of his attempts to form the compound, Perkin observed an unexpected reaction: When diluting the substance with alcohol, it turned purple.
This eureka moment played into a major fashion trend at the time. Purple was the millennial pink of the mid 1800s, but purple-colored textiles were expensive and hard to come by. Perkin's discovery, which he patented and used to create a successful manufacturing business, made the color far more accessible. The timing also coincided with England's Industrial Revolution. According to Google's Doodle Blog, purple-dyed clothes became a major hit and were even worn by royals including Queen Victoria.
Perkin was knighted in 1906 and a special "Perkin Medal" was created in his honor. Today, there are over 2,000 artificial colors. The chemist, who died in 1907, would have turned 180 today.