"On This Day" In Engineering History Blog

"On This Day" In Engineering History

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March 6, 1899 – Bayer Trademarks Aspirin

Posted March 06, 2007 1:15 PM by Steve Melito

On this day in engineering history, Friedrich Bayer & Co. registered "aspirin" as a trademark with Germany's Imperial Patent Office. Felix Hoffman, a 29 year-old research chemist, discovered the world's first non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) while working for Bayer, then a fabric-dye business. In 1897, Hoffman unearthed the experiments of Charles Frederic Gerhardt, a French researcher who had helped develop the theory of atomic weight. In 1853, Gerhardt had combined salicylic acid with sodium and acetyl chloride to form acetylsalicylic acid (ASA), a pain reliever which caused less stomach discomfort than pure salicylic acid or salicin. Since the days of ancient Greece, physicians had extracted salicin from the bark of the white willow (Salix alba) and the leaves of the herb meadowstreet (Spiraea ulmaria). Now, as the end of the nineteenth-century drew near, Felix Hoffman synthesized an ASA powder that reduced fevers and joint inflammation without salicin's uncomfortable side effects.

Bayer's decision to call Hoffman's discovery "aspirin" was followed by clinical trials, trademark registration, and skillful marketing. A concatenation, aspirin takes its "a" from acetyl and its "spir" from the spirea plant. The ending "in" was a common suffix for nineteenth-century medications. During aspirin's clinical trials, pharmacologist Heinrich Dreser demonstrated its safety and efficiency, testing the substance on frogs, rabbits, and eventually his fellow employees. After registering "aspirin" as a trademark in 1899, Bayer marketed the analgesic to doctors and hospitals in powder form. Sales remained sluggish until 1904, however, when a stamped, water-soluble tablet was introduced. With standard dosages now readily available, Bayer began to sell aspirin to consumers. By the time that the company's patent expired in 1917, competitors had so flooded the North American and European markets that patients were unable to distinguish aspirin from its imitators. Today, Canada and Europe recognize Bayer's trademark for aspirin, but the United States does not.










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