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Original Purple Helmets

northwestern purple

Early Department Chemist Creates NU Football's First Purple Helmet

One hundred years ago this October, a chemistry graduate student named Harold Stiegler rolled up his sleeves and put his dye chemistry skills to work.

Before arriving at Northwestern to study in the Department, Stiegler reportedly had been employed at the National Aniline Company. It seems likely that the colorant he prepared was an aniline-based purple dye called mauve, or mauveine, synthesized by Henry Perkin in 1856. The preparation of mauveine (actually a family of related compounds) involves the oxidation, in dilute aqueous acid, of a mixture of aniline, o-toluidine, and p-toluidine. Its molecular structure, however, was not determined until 1994. Stiegler's textile experience, combined with his dedication to chemistry, directly contributed to the purple-dyed helmets for the Northwestern Purple in the fall of 1922.

Stiegler studied under Professor W. Lee Lewis, the chemist who invented the chemical warfare agent Lewisite (“poison-gas”); the two worked to expand the repertoire of toxic arsenic-based gases. After finishing his doctoral degree, Stiegler moved into a successful career in the textile colorant industry as the Director of Research for Lowell Textile Institute. 

Synopsis provided by Margaret E. Schott


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