Check out Aspirin: Wonder Drug of the 20th Century. This site has a brief history of aspirin that fails to mention Gerhardt's contribution.The History of Legislative Control Over Opium, Cocaine, and their Derivatives offers an in depth study of these drugs with a brief mention of aspirin and its trademark loss.
The Little White Pill That Could by Sheryl Stolberg which appeared in the Los Angeles Times September 29, 1994 (page A-1).Aspirin: Tiger or Pussycat? by Willard Zinn which can be found in the 04-01-1996 issue of the Ear, Nose and Throat Journal (Volume 75, page 200).
What does it have to do with the Treaty of Versailles?It seems like every time that you turn on the news these days they find a new use for aspirin. One can't help but wonder if it's really some type of miracle drug.
So, it then is very surprising to find out that it was overlooked by science for nearly fifty years after its invention. Better yet, even after its rediscovery, there was considerable reluctance by the manufacturer to waste money and attempt to actually market it. It's a good thing that they chose to.
So, lets hop in our time traveler and set the date for the fifth century B.C. The exact date is not too important. Just choose some time between 460 and 377 B.C.
Why this range? Very simple - this is believed to be the time when the father of modern medicine Hippocrates was alive (better set the clock for the latter portion of his life or else he will be too young to be of any help to us).
Hippocrates was well aware during his lifetime that he could whip up a potion made from the bark and leaves of the willow tree to help ease aches and pains of childbirth and also reduce fever.
So important was Hippocrates' discovery that it was lost to history. It wasn't until 1758 that the English clergymen stumbled upon the same willow bark miracle drug.
By this time science was in full swing and attempts were made figure out just what key ingredient made this potion work. By the 1820's scientists were able to determine that the mysterious component was salicin which is the pharmacological ancestor of the salicylates - the family of drugs that contains aspirin.
There was a big problem with this stuff however - the salicylic acid derived from the plant upset the stomach pretty badly - similar to the problem that haunts unbuffered aspirin to this day.
Efforts were made to neutralize the salicylic acid with sodium, but these all failed.
In 1853, a French chemist named Charles Frederic Gerhardt tried to improve on the sodium salicylate concoction by combining it with acetyl chloride.
Gerhardt actually succeeded in producing a new compound that was less irritating to the stomach lining and published his results. One would think that the rest would be aspirin history, but this would prove not to be true.
Gerhardt felt that making this stuff was too tedious and quickly abandoned it. He saw little promise for the stuff, as it didn't appear to offer much improvement over the existing drug.
People continued to use the harsher salicylic acid stuff. Their poor stomachs.
Then a miracle occurred (well sort of).
In 1899, a German chemist named Felix Hoffmann came along.
Felix was a young man who just happened to work for a soon-to-be world famous company - Bayer.
Felix was in a desperate search to find a drug for his father to help alleviate the pain of his arthritis. He tried many different types of drugs - all with no success. Then, he stumbled across Gerhardt's publication and decided to whip up a batch.
Of course, Hoffmann thought he had hit pay dirt and tried to convince Bayer to make this new drug. They decided to produce it, but saw little promise for it.
Of course, all new products need a name.
So, they thought hard and came up with - you guessed it - Aspirin.
How did they come up with this? Quite simple, actually. The A comes the acetyl chloride used to make the stuff. The SPIR comes from Spiraea ulmaria, the plant they derived the salicylic acid from. The IN was just a common ending for medicines at that time.
Aspirin was originally sold as a powder and was an instant success. In 1915, Bayer introduced Aspirin tablets.
Aspirin (with a capital A) and Heroin (with a capital H) were actually trademarks of Bayer up through the end of World War I. However, following Germany's defeat, Bayer was forced to give up both trademarks as part of the country's war reparations. Believe it or not, the trademarks were given up at the Treaty of Versailles to France, England, Russia, and the United States in 1919. They never mentioned that in history class in high school!
Of course, aspirin (notice the lower case A) is now the most widely used drug (of course, heroin with the lower case H is a major problem). It's used for headaches, fever, minor pain, and arthritis in higher doses. It is also believed to cut down on the risk of heart disease and reduce the risk of death following a heart attack. Aspirin has been shown by Harvard researchers to actually reduce the risk of colon cancer if taken twice a week. It even helps reduce the chances of preeclampsia during pregnancy.
Maybe it is a magic pill???
Useless? Useful? I’ll leave that for you to decide.
If you liked this story, please check out our
Site Index for more exciting stories!