100 Years of Aspirin

Aspirin – the drug widely used to deal with hangover headaches and many other minor illnesses – was developed in Germany by a chemical process described by research chemist Felix Hoffman on October 10, 1897. Decades later it is still the most versatile and effective medicine on the pharmacist’s shelf. But as doctors are now increasingly recognising, the drug does not just relieve aches and pains, it can also prevent a wide range of serious, life threatening conditions.

The active ingredient in aspirin, acetyl salicylic acid, is a synthetic derivative of a compound, salicin, which occurs naturally in plants, notably the willow tree. Extracts of willow were traditionally used in folk medicine and as early as 400 BC the Greek physician Hippocrates recommended a brew made from willow leaves to treat labour pains. Later in 1763 an English clergyman, Reverend Edward Stone carried out the first proper scientific study of the herbal medicine when he described the benefits he observed after giving ground up willow bark to 50 parishioners suffering from rheumatic fever.

However, when the active ingredient salicin was converted to the medicine salicylic acid it was hard to swallow, causing irritation to the lining of the mouth and stomach. Then in 1897 Felix Hoffmann of the Bayer pharmaceutical company developed the process of synthesising the acetyl salicylic acid named later as aspirin.

In early clinical trials aspirin was found to be a potent treatment for pain, fever and inflammation. Today it is the best known and most widely used medicine in the world with an estimated 100 billion tablets swallowed every year. Indeed it is also used out of this world – as every Space Shuttle carries a small supply.

The link to petroleum: The acetyl part is derived from acetic acid, which comes from methanol and the Monsanto acetic acid process. All these feedstocks are derived from petroleum.

Just another reason we need fossil fuels in our lives.

From the team at

The Norwood Resource (TNR).