A slim but broad-reaching tale of the beginning of artifiical dyes. At the time Perkin made his discovery that coal-tar could be transformed into mauve dye, chemistry was thought of like philosophy--a gentleman's pursuit with no worldly or industrial value. Perkin's discovery and subsequent ability to make money off of it changed that perception forever. By the time he died, chemistry was a roaring industry.
The history of artificial dyes is a fascinating one. Before Perkin discovered mauve, all dyes came from natural sources like plants or sea creatures. The array of colors was small, particularly for the poor. But chemical processes created not only a wide variety of colors, but made them available to everyone. Soon, bright, vibrant colors were a sign of being low-class instead of rich. Trying to cut corners in the chemical process led to colors that bled (even upon people's skin as they wore their clothes), or colors that were actually poisonous. Bright green was particularly likely to be rife with arsenic (could this be part of why the poison cake in Peter Pan is colored bright green?). Meanwhile, analine dyes were being used to discover the microbial world and eventually, even treat diseases. The tale of how mauve came to be is a fascinating one, and fairly well encapsulated herein.