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William Henry Perkin, Jr.

William Henry Perkin, Jr.
Sudbury, England
InstitutionsHeriot-Watt College,
Victoria University of Manchester,
Oxford University,
Alma materRoyal College of Science,
University of Würzburg,
University of Munich
Academic advisor  Adolf von Baeyer
Notable students  Robert Robinson ,
Walter Haworth ,
Chaim Weizmann
For the earlier William Henry Perkin, the father of this William Henry Perkin, see Sir William Henry Perkin

William Henry Perkin, Jr. (1860-1929) was an English organic chemist who was primarily known for his groundbreaking research work on the degradation of naturally occurring organic chemicals. He was the eldest son of Sir William Henry Perkin who had founded the aniline dye industry, and was born at Sudbury, England, close to his father's dyeworks at Greenford.



Perkin was educated at the City of London School and then at the Royal College of Science, South Kensington, London, England, and then in Germany at the universities of Würzburg and Munich. At Munich, he was a doctoral student under Adolf von Baeyer. From 1883 to 1886, he held the position of Privatdocent at the University of Munich. He never lost contact with his friend Baeyer, and delivered the memorial lecture following Baeyer's death in 1917.[1] In 1887 he returned to Britain and became professor of chemistry at Heriot-Watt College, Edinburgh, Scotland.


In 1892 he accepted the chair of organic chemistry at Victoria University of Manchester , England, succeeding Carl Schorlemmer, which he held until 1912. During this period his stimulating teaching and brilliant researches attracted students from all parts, and he formed at Manchester a school of organic chemistry famous throughout Europe. This was possible because he was assigned new laboratory buildings, which he planned together with the famous architect Alfred Waterhouse, similar to those built by Baeyer in Munich. The speech at the opening ceremony was given by Ludwig Mond. An additional laboratory building together with a library and £20,300, was a donation of the chemist and industrialist Eduard Schunck in 1895. His laboratory was removed brick by brick and recreated at Owens College. Frank Lee Pyman, Robert Robinson (who later won a Nobel Prize in chemistry), Walter Haworth and Eduard Hope graduated at Owens College while Perkin was there. The conflict with Chaim Weizmann, who held a postdoctoral position and was a friend of Perkin, over the fermentation of starch to isoamyl alcohol which was the starting material for synthetic rubber and therefore industrially relevant, led to the dimissal of Weizmann. In 1912, following a planned change in University politics involving industrial co-operations, which would have resulted in a significant loss of income for Perkin, he accepted a position in Oxford.


In 1912 he succeeded Professor William Odling as Waynflete Professor of Chemistry at Oxford University, England, a position he held until 1929. When he started five colleges had their own laboratories. He first had to move into the Odling laboratory, the mediaeval Abbot's Kitchen at Glastonbury. During Perkin's time there, new and more extensive laboratories were built (the Dyson Perrins Laboratory), and for the first time in England a period of research became a necessary part of the academic course in chemistry for an honours degree. But the constant rivalry with the physical chemistry department, for example Frederick Soddy, lead to the situation that most of the graduates chose physical or inorganic chemistry as their subject, and Perkin got most of his postdoctoral employees from other universities.

Published work

Perkin's work was published in a series of papers in Transactions of the Chemical Society. The earlier papers dealt with the properties and modes of synthesis of cloud chain hydrocarbons and their derivatives. This work led naturally to the synthesis of many terpenes and members of the camphor group; and also to the investigation of various alkaloids and natural dyes. In addition to purely scientific work, Perkin kept in close touch with the chemical industry. Together with Professor Frederick Kipping, Perkin wrote textbooks on practical chemistry, inorganic and organic chemistry.

Honours and awards

Perkin was a fellow of the Royal Society. He was president of the Chemical Society from 1913 to 1916. Perkin was awarded the Longstaff Medal of the Chemical Society in 1900, the Davy Medal of the Royal Society in 1904, and the Royal Medal of the Royal Society in 1925. In 1910, he was made an honorary graduate of the University of Edinburgh, receiving the degree of Doctor of Laws (LL.D.).[2]

Sources used

  • Jack Morrell (1993). "W. H. Perkin, Jr., at Manchester and Oxford: From Irwell to Isis". Osiris 2nd Series 8 (1): 104-126.
  • Tenney L. Davis (1933). "The Life and Work of Professor William Henry Perkin, Jr.". Osiris 2nd Series 19 (1): 207-208.
  • William Henry Perkin Jr. (1929). "First Pedler lecture. The early history of the synthesis of closed carbon chains". J. Chem. Soc.: 1347-1364. doi:10.1039/JR9290001347.

This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain.


  1. ^ William Henry Perkin, Jr. (1923). "Baeyer memorial lecture". J. Chem. Soc. Trans. 123: 1520-1546. doi:10.1039/CT9232301520.
  2. ^ Honorary Graduates of The University of Edinburgh.
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "William_Henry_Perkin,_Jr.". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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