Smithsonian Color Journey The Color Purple

Historically, purple has often been associated with royalty, faith, prosperity, and healing. Its association with royalty goes back to ancient times when natural purple dies were very expensive to make. In search of a treatment for malaria in 1856, 18-year-old William Henry Perkin experimented with coal tar, a dark liquid by-product of coal-gas production. His experiment failed in achieving its hoped-for outcome, but it succeeded in creating one of the world’s first synthetic dyes, which stained silk a brilliant purple. Learn more about this purple accident and its vibrant impact

Discover ways of understanding the science of color with Smithsonian Libraries and Archives and the story behind the colors we create with the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum.