The first form of aspirin — today one of the most widely used drugs around — existed all the way back in the 5th century B.C., when the father of medicine, Hippocrates, used willow bark and leaves to relieve pain and reduce fever. It wasn’t until the 1820s, however, that scientists identified the active component in willow bark: salicin.
Salicylic acid derived from willow bark worked to fight aches and pains, but there was a major drawback: it upset the stomach. So, a few decades later, French chemist Charles Frederic Gerhardt found that combining salicylic acid with acetyl chloride made it less irritating.
But Gerhardt, thinking the compound was too complex to make, abandoned the idea. It wasn’t until 1899, when Felix Hoffmann, a German chemist, came across Gerhardt’s recipe and found the compound really worked, that aspirin came to be.
Hoffmann worked for Bayer and convinced the company to make the drug, named Aspirin (the names comes from acetyl chloride [A] and spiraea ulmaria, the plant that salicylic acid comes from [spir] along with an [in] ending).
Bayer released Aspirin tablets in 1915 (it was previously sold as a powder), but, interestingly, had to give up the trademark after World War I as part of Germany’s war reparations. At the Treaty of Versailles, the trademark (along with the trademark for Heroin) was given to France, England, Russia and the United States.