When you hear about a teenager messing around in his bedroom with a chemistry set, that conjures up predictions of a window blown out, an accidental fire, or at the least, a bleached spot on the carpet. But as The Guardian explained, 18 year-old William Henry Perkin's accident was much more fortunate in 1856:
"Perkin was studying at the Royal College of Chemistry and was trying to find a way of making quinine in his makeshift lab at home. At the time, quinine was used to treat malaria, but it was expensive because it came from the bark of the South American cinchona tree. Perkin had been adding hydrogen and oxygen to coal tar, as you do, and this heady concoction left a black residue in his glass jars. When this was made into a solution, it resulted in the first 'aniline dyestuff' – as the plaque on his former house in London’s Cable Street, notes."
He had discovered a synthetic way of making purple dye. Not the result he hoped for, but an accident that would make him quite wealthy - and allow purple to be used much more widely.
See, in the past, purple had been a hot commodity. Literally, worth more than its weight in gold. The only way to make the dye was from the shell of a single species of sea snail in the eastern Mediterranean. Thousands of shells were needed to make less than an ounce of dye, which is why throughout history, members of royalty were the only ones who could afford to have garments of this color. Hence - royal purple.
In addition, purple couldn't be used for mass-production of objects like banners, signs, or flags. Which is why only a handful of newer nations have it on their national emblems.
YouTube page After Skool does a fantastic job of breaking the info down in more detail. Who knew that a single color had such a curious history...?
At ChromaLabel, of course, no snails are harmed in the production of our purple labels. But we're sure grateful to an 18-year old whose mother didn't mind that he was messing around in his home laboratory!