Chapter 9: Dyes

Belinda Young 3/16/14

Throughout time, dye has become more complex and useful in our society in changing our clothes, furniture, and sometimes our hair.  With this in mind, why does it seem that we have dismissed the care for how this variety occurs when it has the qualities of being one of greatest discoveries for some of the biggest chemical companies? 

The history of the dye dates all the way back to the Chinese 3000 B.C., found in some of their literature.  It is thought to be one of the first attempts at chemistry! It was achieved through the extraction of their roots, leaves, barks, and berries; and then had to be treated to help “fix the color to the fiber”.  These fibers where called mordants, or compounds that helped fix the color to textile fiber.  These dyes were highly appreciated and very expensive, they came with many complications.  Among these were: the difficulty to collect, the amount of colors were limited, and the colors themselves did not last very long (especially when in sunlight during the earlier days).

The most valued color was blue (Indigo), next to red and yellow.  The reasoning for this is because it is only common in one plant, Indigofera tinctoria.  The plant first appears colorless, but after fermentation the indifo precursor compound, indican(a molecule that contains an attached glucose unit) splits the glucose unit connected to the indican and produces the indoxol molecule.  After this molecule is produced, it mixes with oxygen and forms the blue color.

The discovery of the purple dye is somewhat of an interesting tale.  Many people know that it is said only royalty were said to wear purple in some cultures, this is true.  “Tyrian purple”, similar the process of the blue dye, is made through the split of an attached glucose unit and only through oxidation in the air.  However, purple needs Bromine to form its color.  This is most commonly found in seawater, not in compounds humans were going to find on land.  We give the credit of this discovery to Hercules, his dogs mouth would be tinted purple when returning from eating shellfish and the manufacturing of the dye began from the Mediterranean port city of Tyre from there.

Synthetic dyes became popular in the latter half of the 1700s.  This is what altered the old ways and made it possible to use man made dyes; the first one was picric acid, a triply nitrated molecule that was used in munitions in WW1.  It had many uses, included in this was the coloring of wool and silk.  It was able to accomplish a well-respected yellow hue, although with it being a nitrated compound, it had the negative sides of being possibly explosive, bad light fastness, and not easily obtained.  Synthetic alizarin became the alternate to this, more available and better worth.

Dye trade is where antibiotics, explosives, perfumes, paints, inks, pesticides, and plastics can all be traced back to.  Badische Anilin und Soda Fabrik, the first organic chemistry enterprise would originate in Germany.  It was formerly built for other inorganic compounds, it soon became very well progressive with its dye production. The other two companies, also in Germany are Hoechst and Bayer Company.  Germany was the best choice to pick up the dye industry because it required for the chemist to work together and it not become a game of competition among themselves.  German companies were known for doing this well and putting their products best interest first.

As the greed for more or greater color increased, so did the demand for the dye industry to find bigger and better ways to grow.  Has the “traditional ways” began to disappear, it seems so did the original dull, plain colors.  If you were to look around how many different shades of one color can you see in just the one room you are sitting in?  There is still so much to look forward to in our future.

-B

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One thought on “Chapter 9: Dyes

  1. I think that this is a solid depiction of the history of dyes. I feel that it accurately described both the historical and chemical aspects of dyes. However, there are a few minor problems. Most of them were just grammatical, particularly near the end. Also, I would like to see more of the author’s opinion in the report and your take on it. But overall, I thought it was very well written.

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