indigo

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

indigo

indigo [Span.; from Lat.,=Indian], important blue dyestuff used in printing inks and for vat dyeing of cotton (see dye). It was anciently produced in India and was known in Egypt, probably c.1600 BC; mummies of the XVIII dynasty have been discovered wrapped in indigo-dyed cloth. Indigo is obtained from leguminous plants of the genus Indigofera, chiefly from the Asian species Indigofera tinctoria, but also from several other species. The plants contain a colorless, soluble glucoside called indican. When the macerated plants are allowed to ferment in vats of water the colorless form of indigo is liberated; stirring of the liquid causes oxidation of the colorless material to form a blue sediment. The natural indigo gives a strong blue color of great permanence. Use of the natural dye greatly decreased after the synthesis of indigo was accomplished. Adolf von Baeyer was the first to synthesize it, but others developed the methods used for its commercial production from aniline and chloroacetic acid.

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