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Fascinating facts about the invention of
Aspirin
by Felix Hoffmann in 1897
.

ASPIRIN
AT A GLANCE:

Felix Hoffmann, a German chemist, produced a stable form of acetylsalicylic acid, more commonly known as aspirin, in 1897. Hoffmann, was searching for something to relieve his father's arthritis. He studied French chemist Charles Gergardt's experiments and "rediscovered" acetylsalicylic acid--or aspirin, as we now know it.
THE STORY
RELATED INFO
BOOKS
WEB SITES
QUOTATIONS
HOW IT WORKS
DID YOU KNOW?
Invention: aspirin in 1897  
Image courtesy Bayer Company
Function: noun / as-pi-rin / originally a trademark
Definition: Since 1899, acetylsalicylic acid has attained a leading position world-wide in the prescription-free therapy of painful, feverish and inflammatory states.
Patent: 644,077 (US) issued February 27, 1900
Inventor: Felix Hoffmann
Felix Hoffmann photo courtesy Aspirin Foundation
Criteria: First to patent. First practical. Entrepreneur.
Birth: January 21 1868 in Ludwigsburg, Germany
Death: February 8 1946 in Switzerland
Nationality: German
Milestones:
BC
400 Hippocrates prescribes the bark and leaves of the willow tree to relieve pain and fever
AD
1832 French chemist named Charles Gergardt experiments with salicin and creates salicylic acid
1897 Felix Hoffmann, studied Gerhardt's experiments and "rediscovered" acetylsalicylic acid
1899 Bayer distributes aspirin powder to physicians to give to their patients
1900 Bayer introduces aspirin in water-soluble tablets - the first medication to be sold in this form.
1915 Aspirin becomes available without a prescription. Manufactured in tablet form.
1948 Dr. Lawrence Craven, a California notices that aspirin reduced the risk of a heart attack.
1971 John Vane conceived that aspirin might work by inhibiting the generation of prostaglandins.
CAPs: Aspirin, Felix Hoffmann, John Vane, Dr. Lawrence Craven, Hippocrates, Arthur Eichengru, Charles Gergardt, Bayer, German
SIPs: asprin, acetylsalicylic acid, invention, history, inventor of, history of, who invented, invention of, fascinating facts.
The Story:
The effects of aspirin-like substances have been known since the ancient Romans recorded the use of the willow bark as a fever fighter. The leaves and bark of the willow tree contain a substance called salicin, a naturally occurring compound similar to acetylsalicylic acid, the chemical name for aspirin.

Even as far back as 400 B.C. Hippocrates recommended a tea made from yellow leaves. It wasn't until the 1800's that scientists discovered what was in the willow tree that relieved pain and reduced fever. The substance was named salicylic acid. But when people suffering from pain took the salicylic acid, it caused sever stomach and mouth irritation.

In 1832, a thirty-seven-year-old French chemist named Charles Gergardt mixed another chemical with the acid and produced good results, but the procedure was difficult and took a lot of time. Gerhardt decided the new compound wasn't practial, so he set aside.

Sixty-five-years later a German chemist, Felix Hoffmann, was searching for something to relieve his father's arthritis. He studied Gerhardt's experiments and "rediscovered" acetylsalicylic acid--or aspirin, as we now know it.

Dr. Lawrence Craven, a California general practitioner, in 1948, notices that the 400 men he prescribed aspirin to hadn't suffered any heart attacks. He regularly recommends to all patients and colleagues that "an aspirin a day" could dramatically reduce the risk of heart attack.

In 1971 John Vane began his work on aspirin. Over a weekend he conceived the notion that the mysterious drug might work by inhibiting the generation of prostaglandins. He turned again to his bioassay system for the answer and within a few days he had convinced himself and his colleagues that this indeed was the missing mechanism of action.

TO LEARN MORE

RELATED INFORMATION:
Inventor Felix Hoffmann Biography   from The Great Idea Finder
Healthcare History   from The Great Idea Finder

ON THE BOOKSHELF:
The Kid Who Invented the Popsicle: And Other Surprising Stories About Inventions
by Don L. Wulffson / Paperback - 128 pages
(1999) / Puffin
Brief factual stories about how various familiar things were invented, many by accident, from animal crackers to the zipper.

Mistakes That Worked
by Charlotte Foltz Jones, John O'Brien (Illustrator) / Paperback - 48 pages (1994) / Doubleday
Recounting the fascinating stories behind the accidental inventions of forty familiar objects and products. 
How Does Aspirin Find a Headache?
by David Feldman, Kassie Schwan (Illustrator) / Paperback: 288 pages / Harper Perennial (July 1994)
David Feldman once again sparks our curiosity with a book of Imponderables -- the seventh book in the wildly successful series that has sold one million copies.
Aspirin : The Remarkable Story of a Wonder Drug
by Diarmuid Jeffreys / Paperback: 352 pages / Bloomsbury USA (September 5, 2005)
Rich in dramatic twists and discoveries, the story of aspirin begins in ancient Egypt, and embraces wars, epidemics, espionage, an Oxfordshire vicar, a forgotten Jewish scientist, the Industrial Revolution, a common tree, the Treaty of Versailles, the world's most powerful pharmaceutical companies, Auschwitz, a mercurial advertising genius, and much more.
Aspirin: The Miracle Drug
by Eric Metcalf / Paperback: 212 pages / Avery Publishing Group (April 7, 2005)
Open any medicine cabinet coast-to-coast and you're nearly guaranteed to find a bottle of aspirin crowded among the lotions and other pills. Aspirin has been used to cure headaches, arthritis, fevers, and inflammation since Hippocrates first began grinding willow bark

ON THE SCREEN:
Mavericks, Miracles and Medicine
DVD / 2 Volume Set / 200 Minutes / History Channel / Less than $40.00
The arsenals of today's hospitals are filled with complex and technologically sophisticated tests and treatments that, only a generation ago, would have been the exclusive province of science fiction.


ON THE WEB:

100 Years of Aspirin
Who discovered aspirin?
(URL: www.bayeraspirin.com/questions/hundred_aspirin.htm)
Wonder Drug Aspirin
How does aspirin work? Visit the official site dedicated to the wonder drug aspirin.
(URL: www.wonderdrug.com)
Sir John Vane
Ingenious and perceptive pharmacologist who won the Nobel Prize for Medicine after discovering how aspirin worked
(URL: www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,60-1373136,00.html)
National Inventors Hall of Fame
The National Inventors Hall of Fame™ honors the women and men responsible for the great technological advances that make human, social and economic progress possible.
.
(URL: www.invent.org/hall_of_fame/184.html)
Felix Hoffmann Biography
The "inventor" of Aspirin remained unknown to the international public. He lived in Switzerland out of the public eye until his death in 1946. Felix Hoffmann was never married and had no children.
(URL: www.bayer.com/about-bayer/history/biographies/felix-hoffmann/page1219.htm)
Bayer Corporation USA
Changing the world with great care. Other innovations from Bayer Corporation.
(URL: www.bayerus.com/about/index.html)
National Institutes of Health (NIH)
Official Web site of the Department of Health and Human Services
(URL: www.nih.gov)
Aspirin Foundation
A source of information for consumers, health professionals and journalists on all scientific and general aspects of aspirin usage
(URL: www.aspirin-foundation.com/)
A Twist to the Story.
Up until recently official histories made no mention of Arthur Eichengrun’s role in the development of aspirin. Article by Best Practice Advocacy Centre.
(URL: www.bpac.org.nz/default.asp?action=article&ID=202)

WORDS OF WISDOM:
"Take two aspirin and call me in the morning." - Anonymous

HOW IT WORKS:
Aspirin reduces the production of hormone-like substances called prostaglandins, which are produced in tissues throughout the body. Prostaglandins have many functions. They are part of the chemical messenger systems involved in feeling pain, fever, the redness and swelling that can accompany injuries, and even in contracting certain muscles, for example, the uterus. Since aspirin lowers the amount of prostaglandins, it can help alleviate conditions like pain, fever and the discomfort of menstrual cramps. Aspirin also reduces production of substances involved in the early stages of our body's blood clotting mechanism. This is why doctors may prescribe aspirin, as part of a regimen including diet and exercise, for appropriate individuals with cardiovascular disease.

DID YOU KNOW?:

  • Twice as many people choose aspirin over the personal computer as an invention they couldn't live without in a national survey on inventions conducted by MIT in 1996
  • Americans consume over 50 million aspirin tablets every day…. that's over 15 billion tablets a year.
  • The bayer aspirin was originally marketed in loose powder form. In 1900, the company introduced aspirin in tablet form.
  • In 1900, Felix Hoffman was issued a U.S. patent for Aspirin (No. 644,077)
  • The name "aspirin" is composed of a- (from the acetyl group) -spir- (from the spiraea flower) and -in (a common ending for drugs at the time).
  • Today over 70 million pounds of aspirin are produced annually all over the world, making it the world's most widely used drug.
Designated trademarks and brands are the property of their respective owners.
Reference Sources in BOLD Type. This page revised March 3, 2006.
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