Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Glimpse Of Yesteryear
January 30, 2014 by | No Comments

Relief of pain was as sought after in early Geauga as now. In the earliest days, alcohol was most often relied upon, no matter the…

Relief of pain was as sought after in early Geauga as now. In the earliest days, alcohol was most often relied upon, no matter the age of the one in pain.

But the Indians (as they were called by the early Geaugans) chewed on the bark of the willow tree to relieve pain and some settlers learned to do so, too. (It tasted awful, burned ones mouth and could cause an upset stomach … but the pain was relieved.)

Actually, aspirin use predated early Geauga. Hippocrates, called the father of modern medicine, left historical records of pain relief treatments, including the use of powder made from the bark and leaves of the willow tree for headaches, pains and fevers. (This was sometime between 460 B.C. and 377 B.C.)

However, except as folk medicine, the use of the willow bark was largely ignored, perhaps because of that severe stomach and mouth irritation. Scientists were still interested. In 1829, Johann Buchner, professor of pharmacy at the University of Munich, isolated from willow bark a compound that he called salicin and found that it was this compound that gave the pain relief. (Of course, knowing that did not make it more pleasant to take. Alcohol and opiates were still the painkillers of choice.)

Henri Leroux, a French chemist, improved the extraction method to obtain about 30 grams of salicin from about 1.5 kilograms of bark. The lure of a non-habit-forming painkiller led to more effort to find a way to make the willow bark medicine palatable. In 1838, Raffaele Piria, an Italian chemist working at the Sorbonne in Paris, split salicin into a sugar and a compound, which he called salicylaidehyde, and then converted the latter by hydrolysis and oxidation to an acid that he named salicylic acid.

So now, instead of chewing willow bark to get pain relief and severe stomach and mouth irritation, one could swallow a mixture of salicylic acid and get pain relief and severe stomach and mouth irritation. There needed to be a means of buffering the compound to make it usable.

The first person to do this was French chemist Charles Frederic Gerhardt. In 1853, Gerhardt neutralized salicylic acid by buffering it with sodium (sodium salicylate) and acetyl chloride, creating what he called acetylsalicylic acid. Unfortunately, Gerhardt did not think the compound was practical and he abandoned his discovery. This caused everyone to have to wait for 41 years.

In 1899, a German chemist named Felix Hoffmann, who worked for a German company called Bayer, was looking for something to relieve his fathers arthritis. He ran across Gerhardts formula, made some of the formula and gave it to his father. The results were so good that Felix Hoffmann was able to convince Bayer to market the new wonder drug.

Aspirin was patented on Feb. 27, 1900. Felix Hoffman and his associate at Bayer, Heinrich Dreser, came up with the name Aspirin. It comes from the A in acetyl chloride, the spir in spiraea ulmaria (the plant from which they derived the salicylic acid) and the in, which was a then familiar name ending for medicines.

Geaugans (and everyone else) at first bought Aspirin as a powder. In 1915, the first Aspirin tablets were made.

A side light in history … Aspirin and Heroin were once trademarks belonging to Bayer. After Germany lost World War I, Bayer was forced to give up both trademarks in 1919 as part of the Treaty of Versailles.

Aspirin, or acetylsalicylic acid, is a mild, nonnarcotic analgesic. The drug works by inhibiting the production of prostaglandins, body chemicals that are necessary for blood clotting and which also sensitize nerve endings to pain. In 1915, Geaugans, who at last were able to get a non-habit-forming painkiller, probably did not know how it worked. They were just glad it did.

For information on the events at the Geauga County Historical Societys Burton Century Village Museum, call 440-834-1492 or visit

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