Scheele's Green

Scheele’s Green — A Lesson In Bad Brand Reputation

Do you ever wonder how colors like robin's egg blue get their names? Here's a color name that we bet not many of you have ever heard of, and it’s perfect for Halloween: Scheele's Green.

Talk about about arsenic and old lace. Deadly nightshade has not nothing on this shade of green.

The history of this particular shade of green color is a gothic cautionary tale. The lesson to be gleamed from Scheele’s Green we think is to watch your methods and processes—especially if you have a business or brand to protect. The ends definitely didn’t justify the means in this story.

Historically, purple and green used to be the two most difficult colors to create. 

Purple was very costly to get right, but green was maddeningly impossible to get right because it usually came out kind of dull, and faded really quickly. So it’s no surprise that it would become so popular once a synthetic solution was found by a Swedish chemist named Carl Wilhelm Scheele in 1775. Hence the name Scheele’s Green. 

Green became particularly popular during the Victorian Era (1837–1901), when wallpaper was big in interior design and advancements of industrialization got wallpaper got down to a price where the middle class could afford it. 

So Scheele’s Green found its way into thousands of homes, and became used in things other than wallpaper, such as toys, hats, drapes, fake flowers, candles, hosiery, you name it. Pretty great right? Unfortunately, the secret to the success of this super rich and vibrant yellow-green color kind of gave green a bad name for a while. The problem was one of the chemicals that Scheele used to make this particular shade of green. Can you guess the chemical?

A Killer Color: The Victorian Pigment That Was as Deadly as It Was Desirable It

For a while it kind of seemed like a mystery—people complaining of pain in their throat, difficulty swallowing, abdominal pain, diarrhea, vomiting…and then they just died. With these symptoms being so similar to cholera, which was rampant through London at the time, it was hard to diagnose the illness and identify the source. 

Eventually people caught on when stories of people buying Scheele’s Green wallpaper and then dying a few months later kept coming up. One of the most famous victims of Scheele’s Green wallpaper was Napoleon, whose death was hastened by the deadly arsenic-infused Scheele’s Green wallpaper of his lodging at Longwood House, on the island of St. Helena. Arsenic would eventually get phased out of this green color, but it took decades to get it out of homes. Believe it or not, Scheele’s Green made wallpaper less popular. 

Why Manufacturing Green Still Ain’t Easy

It still is difficult to manufacture greens—and the cruel truth is that most forms of the color are harmful to the environment and are not ecologically responsible, because green requires toxic substances to stabilize it. How ironic, for the color of choice for environmental movements and brands that strive for sustainability. Maybe it’s nature’s way of protecting its brand color from reproduction? Just kidding.

In terms of color psychology, green will always be closely associated as the symbol of nature, but as you can see, its history is troublesome. It has also symbolized passion, evil, and ill humor at different points in history. But don’t let all this bad history make you weary of using green in your content or branding. Founder Geoffrey Pyrzynski chose green as the Geoffresh brand color because it’s his favorite color and because this particular shade, we like to call Geoffresh Green, represents the freshness that we strive to bring to every project and client. We strive to stay EverFresh with our methods and processes, changing with the times but always prudent and testing what’s good from bad—unlike a certain someone by the name of Scheele. 

As any business knows, reputation is everything and like Scheele’s Green, a bad reputation takes a long time to unstick. So let the story of Scheele’s Green stick with you as you continue on your brand journey. And if you need help along the way, we’re happy to help you with all your brand needs.