Dyes are very important in the fact that they started some of humankind’s first industries and led to today’s production of antibiotics, analgesics, and other pharmaceutical compounds. The extraction and usage of dyes has occurred possibly as far back as 3000 BC. While the methods for obtaining different dyes have changed, the effects and industries have remained.
Original dyes used by the ancient civilizations were difficult to obtain and the color quickly faded or washed out, making the dyes very valuable. Blue was highly sought after and could only be found in Indigofera inctoria and Isatis tinctoria. To produce the indigo color, fermentation under alkaline conditions then followed by oxidation had to occur. The main compound found in indigo is indican. Indigo was a valuable substance, but Tyrian purple was the most expensive ancient dye. Tyrian purple was considered a symbol of royalty, and sometimes only the king or emperor was allowed to wear this color. This dye is very similar to indigo, but contains two bromine atoms compared to one found in indigo. Tyrian purple most likely originated from the city of Tyre in the Phoenician Empire, where the dye was found in a shellfish, Murex. In addition to purple and indigo, there were two common dyes used for red shades during ancient times. Found in both Turkey red and the Madder plant, alizarin was the molecule responsible for the color red. Lastly, the bright yellow-orange was obtained from saffron. The molecule, crocetin, is responsible for the color and is very similar in structure to the color producing molecule in carrots.
Starting in the 1700s, synthetic dyes were created that changed the dye industry. The development of the first organic synthetic dye was created by William Henry Perkin who was examining quinine to observe its antimalarial properties, but accidently discovered the color mauve. This was the first multistep synthesis of an organic compound that led to more discovered dyes from coal tar residues.
As synthetic dyes were discovered and made usable for the common people, the usage of dyes has increased since their discovery in ancient times. The dyes were previously solely used by royalty and the rich. However in present times, nearly every fabric in use has been dyed. For example, clothes, furniture, sheets, stuffed animals, and curtains have all been dyed a color to please the customer. The production and usage of colorful dyes has become common to see everywhere and most people do not stop to think of the work done to produce such materials.
I completely agree with the author when it is stated that dyes have changed history and are still very important to mankind. It allowed the creation of guilds and factories for the sole purpose to extract or create these dyes. The finding of synthetic dyes from organic sources also led to very important discoveries in medicines, explosives, perfumes, paints, inks, pesticides, and plastics which all play a very important role in day to day life.