A brief history of aspirin

Wired has a brief article on the history of aspirin, which contains the surprising fact that the same pharmacist who first synthesised the popular headache pill also first synthesised heroin.

1899: Felix Hoffmann, a young pharmacist working for the German pharmaceutical company Bayer, patents a new pain reliever. The trademark name is aspirin.

Hoffmann, who was said to be seeking an effective pain reliever for his father’s rheumatism, successfully synthesized acetylsalicylic acid in August 1897. It would later be marketed as aspirin ‚Äî “a” for “acetyl” and “spirin” for Spirea, the genus name of the source plant for salicylic acid, the pain-relieving agent.

That August, incidentally, was an especially fertile period for Hoffmann: The month also saw him synthesize heroin, which he accomplished accidentally while attempting to acetylate morphine to produce codeine. Obviously, that discovery didn’t pan out like aspirin.

It turns out that aspirin was a huge money-spinner for pharmaceutical company Bayer owing to persuasive marketing and powerful patent lawyers.

Link to Wired on the birth of aspirin.


  1. Posted March 11, 2009 at 10:31 pm | Permalink

    The heroin/aspirin connection makes sense in the historical context. At that time heroin and cocaine were legal and were used, along with opium, as part of the medical repertoire of common medicines, as well as available in a lot of commercial concoctions. Back then it was probably more surprising that ASA became such a success than synthetic heroine.

  2. Posted March 11, 2009 at 10:32 pm | Permalink

    Oops, that was “heroin” not “heroine”–I just finished draft 7 of my latest novel. I have heroines on the brain.

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