1899: The History of Aspirin

Coated aspirin (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

On this date in 1899, Bayer registered the name “Aspirin” as a trademark.

Here are some things you might not have known about aspirin.

Aspirin is also known as acetylsalicylic acid. People have been using willow and myrtle trees, both rich in salicylate for thousands of years to treat pain and fever.

Aspirin is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug, in the same class as ibuprofen and naproxen. It’s a pain reliever, fever reducer and it fights inflammation. It works by suppressing the production of prostaglandins and thromboxanes. Prostaglandins are involved in the transmission of pain information, modulation of the thermostat in the brain and inflammation. Thromboxanes are responsible for the gathering of platelets that cause blood clots, which can lead to heart attacks.

It proved difficult and wasteful to extract salicylic acid from plants, but in 1860 Hermann Kolbe figured out how to synthisize it. The synthesized drug had many of the positive effects of aspirin, but had negatives including weakening of the heart, gastric irritation and an intense bitter taste.

In 1897, Bayer chemist Felix Hoffmann began working on how to make salicylic acid less irritating. It’s thought he began his research because his father had suffered from the side effects of sodium salicylate used to treat rheumatism. Using existing research, he discovered a better method for creating acetylsalicylic acid. Bayer would credit Hoffman as the inventor of aspirin, when in reality he refined the process of making it.

Testing of what would become known as aspirin was delayed by company bureaucracy. It would have to wait even longer because Bayer’s testing department was busy testing diacetylmorphine, which would be become better known as heroin. The name heroin is a reference to the quote “heroic” feelings it gave the testers. Eventually aspirin was tested and was found to have few of the side effects of its predecessors.

When it came time to name the drug, there were two final options: aspirin and euspirin. Aspirin was derived from its chemical name in German: Acetylspirsäure. Euspirin had a similar origin, but included the prefix eu- meaning good, as in euphemism.

Aspirin was originally sold in powder form. However, this made it difficult to prevent competitors from making confusingly similar products. So Bayer began pressing aspirin into standardized tablets.

During World War I, Bayer had its American assets seized, including its name and logo. It was purchased by Sterling Products, Inc.

After World War II, aspirin lost market share to new drugs like acetaminophen and ibuprofen. In the 1980s when both new drugs were available over the counter, aspirin had a small portion of the pain reliever market. It was hurt even further by the link of aspirin consumption by children to Reye’s Syndrome, a potentially fatal disease. Soon after, aspirin’s effectiveness at reducing heart attacks was brought to light and the drug regained its place as the top-selling pain reliever in the U.S.

In 1994, Bayer purchased Sterling Products and regained use of its name, logo and products in the United States.

Our question: What year was heroin made illegal in the United States?


Today is Independence Day in Ghana.

It’s unofficially Dentist’s Day, National Oreo Cookie Day, and National Frozen Food Day.

It’s the birthday of illustrator Will Eisner, who was born in 1917; author Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who was born in 1927; and basketball player Shaquille O’Neal, who turns 45.

Because our topic happened before 1960, we’ll spin the wheel to pick a year at random.

This week in 1979, the top song in the U.S. was “I Will Survive” by Gloria Gaynor.

The No. 1 movie was “The Deer Hunter,” while the novel “Chesapeake” by our man James Michener topped the New York Times Bestsellers list.

Weekly question: For which book, later turned into a movie, did James Michener win the 1948 Pulitzer Prize for fiction?

Submit your answer at triviapeople.com/test and we’ll add the name of the person with the first correct answer to our winner’s wall … at triviapeople.com. We’ll have the correct answer on Friday’s episode.



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