Felix Hoffmann and the invention of Aspirin

Our topic for today is Aspirin. It’s the birthday today of Felix Hoffmann (21 Jan 1868 – 8 Feb 1946), the German chemist and lead investigator at Bayer and Co who was responsible for the creation of aspirin.

Hoffmann’s interest in researching new pain medication was fueled by his father’s chronic rheumatism. At the time the best pain killer was salicylic acid (originally extracted from the bark and leaves of the willow tree) which caused some rather nasty stomach upsets and had had a really vile taste to boot.

Aspirin - still one of the most popular medications in the world, more than a century after its invention.(© All Rights Reserved)
Aspirin – still one of the most popular medications in the world, more than a century after its invention.
(© All Rights Reserved)

In 1897, on 10 Aug, Hoffmann synthesised aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid), by acetylating salicylic acid with acetic acid. He was not the first to prepare acetylsalicylic acid, but what made the Bayer version superior was that the salicylic acid was in the form of salicin derived from Filipendula ulmaria (meadowsweet), which caused less digestive upset than pure salicylic acid. Clinical trials by Bayer showed the new drug provided effective pain relief, lowered fever and had anti-inflammatory properties.

In addition to the above benefits of aspirin, it has also been shown to have an antiplatelet  effect in blood. As such, long-term low doses of aspirin is an effective treatment to help prevent blood clot formation, heart attacks and strokes.

Of course, as with all medication, it’s not all positive. Some of the not-so-great side effects, particularly with aspirin taken orally, include potential gastrointestinal ulcers and stomach bleeding. Due to these side-effects, and more specifically the potential of Reye’s syndrome (a severe brain disease that can result from administering aspirin to children), it is no longer prescribed to treat flu, chickenpox etc in children and adolescents.

To this day aspirin remains one of the most widely used medications in the world, and it is estimated that annual consumption is around 40 000 tonnes. Even though Hoffmann’s name is on the aspirin patent, it was owned by Bayer and he received no financial share in its huge international success.

Postscript: To add a sinister twist to our story, even though official records show Felix Hoffmann as the lead investigator on the aspirin project, a Jewish chemist, Arthur Eichengrun, later claimed to have been the project lead, and that records of his contribution were expunged under the Nazi regime. Stranger things have happened at the time, and I guess that is a controversy that is unlikely to be clarified anytime soon.

Celebrating rock ‘n’ roll royalty – Leo Fender and his iconic guitars

Come on, everybody, let your hair down and rock it like you mean it!

If you ever needed an excuse to rock out, you have one today – we celebrate the birthday of Leo Fender (10 Aug 1909 – 21 Mar 1991), the man who gave rock ‘n’ roll a huge adrenalin injection with the invention of the Fender Telecaster, the first (and many would argue still the greatest) solid-body electric guitar.

Through his company, the Fender Musical Instruments Corporation, he also made numerous other contributions to the music world, including the legendary Fender Stratocaster guitar and the Fender Precision Bass.

Rock ‘n’ roll royalty – the Fender Stratocaster.
(© All Rights Reserved)

With the changing trends in music towards the end of the 1940s, Leo Fender realised there was potential in the market for a louder, cheaper and more durable guitar than the pickup-equipped archtop guitars used by the earlier dance bands. He prototyped his first thin, solid-body electric guitar in 1949. First released in 1950 as a single pickup design called the Fender Esquire, it was quickly renamed the Broadcaster. After the addition of a second pickup, it became the Fender Telecaster (or ‘Tele’) – one of the most iconic electric guitars, still virtually unchanged, and as popular as ever, today, more than 60 years later.

Based on feedback received from players who wanted something different to what the Telecaster offered, Fender first considered changing and updating the design of the guitar. With so many players committed to the Telecaster, however, he decided to rather introduce a separate new design. The new guitar, called the Stratocaster (or ‘Strat’) – basically a Telecaster on steroids – had a more ergonomic, smooth double-cutaway body, a rounder neck, three pickups and a revolutionary tremolo (string-bending) unit. Another true rock icon, the Fender Stratocaster became the weapon of choice for countless rock guitarists over the past 50 years.

The list of guitarists who play Fender Strats and Teles reads like a who’s who of guitar gods over the ages – Jimi Hendrix, Yngwie Malmsteen, Ritchie Blackmore, Buddy Guy, Jeff Beck, Kurt Cobain, Keith Richards, Bruce Springsteen, Eric Clapton, Mark Knopfler, David Gilmour, John Mayer and Stevie Ray Vaughan, to list a few of the better known names. You just can’t argue with that!

In addition to their legendary electric guitars, the Fender company also produces acoustic guitars, electric basses, mandolins, banjos, and electric violins, as well as a range of amplifiers and PA systems.

In one of those crazy cosmic coincidences, today also happens to be the day (back in 1897) that aspirin was first created.  So it turns out that the same day that gave us the man who helped put the volume into rock n roll, also gave us the substance that could help relieve the headaches suffered by those who couldn’t handle the volume!