Dyes have been in use for several thousand years.  The first dyes came from plant roots, leaves, bark, and berries.  dyes were valued for the rich color they gave to garments.  However they did not last long, and often faded.  This made dyes very valuable during 3000 BC.  Early dyes had several problems.  For  starters, they were very difficult to obtain.  Only a few types of plants contained the chemicals that were able to produce such beautiful colors.  In addition, the color choices were limited to mainly the primary colors: red, blue, and yellow.  When the organic structures of dyes are applied to textiles, the textile turns to the color of the dye.  We are able to see the color produced by dyes because of their molecular structure which absorbs certain wavelengths of light and reflects them back to us.  The color that we see is dependent on the bonds inside the dye molecules.  Because blue dyes are more rare than red and yellow ones, they were highly valued.  Blue dyes come from the plant species Indigofera tinctoria.  However, if you were to try to guess what color the dye would be before fermentation, you would have a rather difficult time.  Indigo is actually colorless until it has undergone the fermentation and oxidation processes.  On a molecular level, indican is attached to a glucose molecule.  During fermentation this structure is broke down and it turns into indiogoton and releases a blue color. 

During the 18th century it became apparent that a way of producing synthetic dyes was greatly needed.  William Henry Perkin was the first man to produce a dye that didn’t have to be cultivated from plant fibers.  However this discovery was by complete accident.  He was actually studying quinine and its anti-malarial properties when he discovered the purple color of mauve.  He had  dropped a few peices of silk into the mixture he had been working with in the lab.  The silk absorbed the substance and turned purple.  He tested it with soap, hot water, and sunlight and found that the color would not fade.  After this discovery, many more dyes were being produced from coal tar residues.  The discovery of synthetic dyes has had a lasting effect on modern society.  Before, dyes were a luxury item and were priced very highly because of their rarity.  Now, it is had to find an article of clothing, blanket, sheet, furniture, and even food items that do not contain a drop of dye in them.  Many people take for granted the value of dyes.  I know I wouldn’t want to live in a world where only the rich people wore colored clothes and the rest of were stuck wearing blah untreated fabrics.   We owe some of our greatest successes to the dye industry and we haven’t even realized it yet.  I believe the author did an excellent job describing the impact that dyes have had on the course of history.  While many people may believe that the world would still be functioning normally without dyes, I beg to differ.  How would you like to be fighting a war and not know whose men were who because they are all wearing the same thing.  Or, live in a world where every single sports team wore the same color.  That’s just wrong in every humanly way possible.  As you can see, dyes have had a huge and lasting effect on history.

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3 thoughts on “Dyes

  1. huynhvicky

    I can see you are very into dyes, Mackenzie, due to your statement of “That’s just wrong in every humanly way possible” after describing the effects of not having dyes.
    In war, I would think most uniforms would look the same after an episode out in the battlefield. What comrades look for is the style of uniform and symbols on it, not solely the color of one’s outfit. With sport teams, it’s not as important to have more than one distinguisher between outfits, because it’s not a matter of life and death, so I do agree that color differentiation is the best in the sports category.
    A little bit more on the chemistry and structure would be awesome, but I do enjoy how much background info you had. Groovy job!
    Isn’t it crazy how many things are created through accidental findings?

  2. madisonstephens15

    Pat yourself on the back, Mackenzie! Haha, but it was very nicely written and it didn’t sound monotone and boring, which is always a plus! (: I am a fan!

  3. leeesther3

    Mackenzie, you did a really good job on this post! The historical information was very intriguing. However, there was just a glimpse of chemical information, and I would like to know a little more. Still though , what you did write about it was very interesting! Who would have known that indigo is actually initially colorless?!
    I also agree completely that we take dyes for granted. I mean I don’t even want to imagine what my day would look like without colors from dyes. We would only get to see colors in nature, but we’re locked up in school all day that we wouldn’t even get much time to appreciate its beauty. That is why I am glad we have dyes to keep things interesting!

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