Madder and Alizarin
The laboratory synthesis of alizarin, the vibrant red chemical in madder dye, transformed the dyeing industry and laid important foundations for the future of the chemical industry.
Historically, most dyes used for clothing and other textiles came from natural materials such as the leaves, seeds, and roots of plants. One such dye came from the root of the madder plant, a perennial plant native to the continental Europe, temperate Asia, Africa, and the Americas, which yielded colors from bright pink to vibrant orange. The color was released by pounding the root in a mortar and pestle; the third pounding, which pulverized the heart of the root, yielded the finest grade of the material.
The complex process of using madder to produce “Turkey Red,” named for the luminous orange-red color found on carpets of Constantinople, was one of the best kept secrets of dyers in the early 1700. The secret eventually leaked out and found its way to Britain where red bandanas dyed with madder became all the rage. Madder was also the source that infused the flame red jackets of the British Redcoats.
In 1868 in London, the cost of madder was 30 shillings per hundred-weight. Just one year later, the price had dropped to eight shillings per hundred-weight. The drastic difference in cost was due to the development in Germany by Carl Graebe and Carl Liebermann of a three-step synthesis of alizarin, the component of madder that produces the red color. This development represents one of the first examples of organic chemists synthesizing a natural product through a laboratory process. Graebe and Liebermann sold the rights to the synthesis to the Badische dye company, which would subsequently become BASF. The need to refine the crude original synthesis demonstrated that industry required the ongoing support of trained scientists to create new products and to improve existing processes, thus giving rise to the research and development efforts characteristic of the modern chemical industry.
A description of using madder as a dye can be found at http://www.aurorasilk.com/natural_dyes/dyes/dye_madder.html