6 March 1899: Aspirin trademarked

Chemical company Bayer was awarded a patent for its pain-relieving acetylsalicylic acid powder, or 'Aspirin', on this day in 1899.

As early as the Ancient Egyptians, it was recognised that using the bark of the willow tree would help relieve minor aches and pains, including those caused by colds. However, it was not until 1763 that the medical community started to systematically investigate it, with the Royal Society publishing research into its role in treating fever.

The next major breakthrough came in 1828 when a professor at Munich University extracted the active ingredient from willow, named salicin. By 1876, further tests had shown that this was effective in reducing pain. During the late 19th century, salicylic acid became an increasingly used as a pain-relief drug. However, it has several unpleasant side effects, such as bleeding and nausea, which limited its use.

Chemical company Bayer set to work in 1895 to make a more palatable version of the drug. Two years later, Felix Hoffmann came up with acetylsalicylic acid. Initially, there was some scepticism about its effectiveness compared to other similar products. However, tests vindicated the new powder, which was trademarked by Bayer at 'Aspirin' on 6 March 1899. It appeared in tablet form in 1900 and became prescription-free in 1900.

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By the 1950s, it would become the most widely sold painkiller. However, in 1974, research would suggest that it also plays an important role in preventing heart attacks. There is also strong evidence that it reduces the risk of cancer. At the moment, it is one of the top ten generic drugs in the world, with annual sales of around $1.64bn. However, Bayer's patent expired in 1917, meaning that generic competitors would get most of the profits.

Bayer would also lose the US rights to the name 'Aspirin' after it attempted to get around the wartime embargo on phenol, an important ingredient.

Dr Matthew Partridge

Matthew graduated from the University of Durham in 2004; he then gained an MSc, followed by a PhD at the London School of Economics.

He has previously written for a wide range of publications, including the Guardian and the Economist, and also helped to run a newsletter on terrorism. He has spent time at Lehman Brothers, Citigroup and the consultancy Lombard Street Research.

Matthew is the author of Superinvestors: Lessons from the greatest investors in history, published by Harriman House, which has been translated into several languages. His second book, Investing Explained: The Accessible Guide to Building an Investment Portfolio, is published by Kogan Page.

As senior writer, he writes the shares and politics & economics pages, as well as weekly Blowing It and Great Frauds in History columns He also writes a fortnightly reviews page and trading tips, as well as regular cover stories and multi-page investment focus features.

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