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Aspirin

Claim:   The brand name 'Aspirin' was taken from the terms 'acetylsalicylic acid' and 'spiraea ulmaria.'

TRUE

Origins:   Acetylsalicylic acid (ASA) was first extracted from the plant Meadowsweet (Spiraea Ulmaria) in Aspirin 1835 by a French chemist. It was considered little more than a curiosity at that time, and as the process was lengthy, further messing around with it was put on the shelf.

It might well have stayed there too had it not been for a German chemist intent upon developing a new pain medication to ease the suffering of his arthritic father. In 1897 and while working at Bayer's headquarters in Elberfeld, Germany, Felix Hoffmann synthesized ASA from a chemical similar to one found in willow bark. Aspirin was thus born.

Aspirin's name was coined from "A" for acetylsalicylic acid, "SPIR" for spiraea ulmaria and "IN" likely just because it completed "ASPIR" with an authoritative-sounding yet pleasing-to-the-ear finish. 100+ years after its introduction, the product is still going strong and is consumed daily in mind-boggling quantities: 50 billion pills each year (29 billion in the United States
alone).

It has been known for at least two thousand years that willow bark will alleviate pain and reduce fever. Willow bark contains salicin, a glucoside that is probably converted into salicylic acid in the body. Salicylic acid is closely related to aspirin, the synthetic drug that has displaced willow bark from popular use.

What all of this means for ordinary people like us is that the next time we have a headache or fever and the pharmacies are closed, we should be out sneaking around our neighbors' back yards.

Barbara "willow the whisked (to the police station)" Mikkelson

Last updated:   31 May 2011

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Sources:

    Squires, Sally.   "Aspirin: The World's Most Popular Pill Turns 100."
    The Washington Post .   5 August 1997   (p. Z12).

    Businessworld.   "100 Years of Aspirin."
    21 October 1997   (p. 24).