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Source: David Stone, 785-532-2978, stone@k-state.edu
Note to editor: This is the fourth in a series of news releases about the color purple in honor of Kansas State University's founding on Feb. 16, 1863.
News release prepared by: Kayela Richard, 785-532-1546, media@k-state.edu

Thursday, Feb. 10, 2011

The power of purple:

MANHATTAN -- The color purple has a significant place in both modern and ancient history, according to a Kansas State University professor.

In the ancient world, purple was universally associated with wealth and power, said David Stone, professor of history.

"The reason was a particular purple dye associated with the Phoenicians, a trading people who lived in what is now present-day Lebanon," Stone said.

The Phoenicians created a market surrounding the Mediterranean, and one of their most famous products was Tyrian purple, named for the city of Tyre.

"This purple was made from the murex, a kind of carnivorous sea snail," he said. "Since each snail produced only a few drops of dye, Tyrian purple was very expensive, and became associated with royalty and power."

Julius Caesar wore a purple toga, and subsequent emperors of Rome adopted it as their ceremonial dress.

"The emperors of Byzantium continued that tradition until their final collapse in 1453," Stone said. "The Byzantines referred to the heirs of their emperors as 'born into the purple.'"

For thousands of years textiles were limited to natural dyes, so the appearance of purple was scarce.

"In 1856 William Henry Perkin developed the first aniline -- or synthetic organic -- dye, a shade of purple he called mauve, from a derivative of coal tar," he said. "By the next year he had made the process commercially viable."

This development was a fairly significant moment in history, Stone said, marking the point at which chemistry and chemical engineering began to expand the range of materials available.

"The creation of Kansas State University in 1863 thus took place only a few years after a host of new possibilities for science and engineering," Stone said.


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