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Published:November 9th, 2006 10:10 EST
Birth of Aspirin

Birth of Aspirin

By Yash Todi

Before people started using aspirin as a drug to relieve pain, there was a willow bark. About 400 B.C., Hippocrates, the ‘father of medicine’, advised chewing it to ease the pain of child-birth. For centuries, people all over the world knew of its power to treat headaches, fevers and inflammation. However, they did not understand why it had this power.

Through the chemistry of the 19th century aspirin, created from willow bark became an important development in science. In Germany in the 1820s, the magic chemical in willow bark was isolated and named salicin. Later in the century, a drug, acetylsalicylic acid, was developed, but no one really knew what to do with it. Some people tried a crude form of the drug which, they said, burned in their stomachs like acids.

Then a young chemist at the German chemical firm of Bayer & Company decided to try acetylsalicylic acid on his father who had arthritis. The wonder drug, aspirin, was born!

Why it is named aspirin is still debated. One theory is that the word came from spiraea, the plant from which salicin was actually isolated. The first aspirin tablets that people could buy from chemists’ shops appeared at the beginning of the 20th century.