The history of aspirin (IUPAC name acetylsalicylic acid ) begins with its synthesis and manufacture in 1899. Before that, salicylic acid had been used medicinally since antiquity. Medicines made from willow and other salicylate-rich plants appear in clay tablets from ancient Sumer as well as the Ebers Papyrus from ancient Egypt.:8–13 Hippocrates referred to their use of salicylic tea to reduce fevers around 400 BC, and were part of the pharmacopoeia of Western medicine in classical antiquity and the Middle Ages. Willow bark extract became recognized for its specific effects on fever, pain and inflammation in the mid-eighteenth century. By the nineteenth century pharmacists were experimenting with and prescribing a variety of chemicals related to salicylic acid, the active component of willow extract.:46–55
In 1853, chemist Charles Frédéric Gerhardt treated acetyl chloride with sodium salicylate to produce acetylsalicylic acid for the first time;:46–48 in the second half of the nineteenth century, other academic chemists established the compound's chemical structure and devised more efficient methods of synthesis. In 1897, scientists at the drug and dye firm Bayer began investigating acetylsalicylic acid as a less-irritating replacement for standard common salicylate medicines, and identified a new way to synthesize it.:69–75 By 1899, Bayer had dubbed this drug Aspirin and was selling it around the world.:27 The word Aspirin was Bayer's brand name, rather than the generic name of the drug; however, Bayer's rights to the trademark were lost or sold in many countries. Aspirin's popularity grew over the first half of the twentieth century leading to fierce competition with the proliferation of aspirin brands and products.
Aspirin's popularity declined after the development of acetaminophen/paracetamol in 1956 and ibuprofen in 1962. In the 1960s and 1970s, John Vane and others discovered the basic mechanism of aspirin's effects,:226–231 while clinical trials and other studies from the 1960s to the 1980s established aspirin's efficacy as an anti-clotting agent that reduces the risk of clotting diseases.:247–257 Aspirin sales revived considerably in the last decades of the twentieth century, and remain strong in the twenty-first with widespread use as a preventive treatment for heart attacks and strokes.:267–269
Medicines derived from willow trees and other salicylate-rich plants have been part of pharmacopoeias at least dating back to ancient Sumer. The Ebers Papyrus, an Egyptian medical text from ca. 1543 BCE, mentions use of willow and myrtle (another salicylate-rich plant) to treat fever and pain.
Willow bark preparations became a standard part of the materia medica of Western medicine beginning at least with the Greek physician Hippocrates in the fifth century BCE; he recommended chewing on willow bark to relieve pain or fever, and drinking tea made from it to relieve pain during childbirth. The Roman encyclopedist Celsus, in his De Medicina of ca. 30 AD, suggested willow leaf extract to treat the four signs of inflammation: redness, heat, swelling and pain. Willow treatments also appeared in Dioscorides's De Materia Medica, and Pliny the Elder's Natural History. By the time of Galen, willow was commonly used throughout the Roman and Arab worlds,:14–15 as a small part of a large, growing botanical pharmacopoeia.