Advertisement for aniline dyes, USA, 1925. Advertisement for aniline dyes, USA, 1925.

Aniline is a chemical compound discovered in mid-nineteenth century Europe, which forms the basis for the modern synthetic dye industry. Aniline dyes are known for their wide range of bright colours that do not fade (unlike many natural dyes).

Since their discovery, anilines have been very popular with producers, including textile manufacturers and embroiderers, and consumers. One problem with the early aniline dyes, however, was that some could not be washed easily, since the colour would bleed onto the ground material. But this was used as ‘evidence’ that the new dye, aniline, had been used.

Aniline is an organic compound (C6H5NH2) that comes from coal and oil. The history of aniline is complicated, as it was identified by various scientists and given a variety of different names, all within a relatively short period of time. Aniline was first isolated from indigo by Otto Unverdorben, who called it Crystallin, in 1826. Not long afterwards, in 1834, Friedlieb Runge isolated a substance from coal tar that he called kyanol or cyanol. The substance turned a bright blue colour when treated with chloride of lime. Runge’s discovery was followed in 1840 by Carl Julius Fritzsche (1808-1871), who treated indigo with caustic potash and obtained an oil that he called aniline. It was later recognised that all of these substances were the same and they became known under the general heading, aniline.

The most important discovery in the early history of aniline took place in 1856 when the British scientist, William Perkin (1838-1907), identified in coal-tar benzene a related product that he called mauveine, which produced purple. Perkin then went on to identify a process to consistently produce the first synthetic dyes. Shortly afterwards the French scientist, Antoine Béchamp, developed a new method of producing a range of aniline dyes on an industrial scale. These dyes literally changed the nature of colour production (techniques, economics, social structures) within the textile industry throughout the world. In particular, production of aniline dyes led to the creation of a massive dye industry in Germany under the name of BASF (Badische Anilin- und Soda-Fabrik), which supplied aniline dyes to many countries around the world.

Source: TRAVIS, Anthony S. (2007), 'Anilines: Historical background,' in: Rappoport, Zivi (ed.), The Chemistry of Anilines, Chichester: John Wiley and Sons, pp. 2-75, esp. pp. 2-17.

Digital source of illustration (retrieved 7th July 2016).


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