Aspirin like substances are known to have been used since ancient times. Ancient Romans used the bark of the willow tree to fight fever. Going as far back as 400 B.C., Hippocrates too is believed to have used the same method to relieve pain and fever.
Scientists found that the leaves and bark of the willow tree contain a substance called salicylic acid which helped to reduce pain and fever. The action of this naturally occurring compound was not yet known. However, salicylic acid was found to be causing stomach upsets and could not be used effectively.
In 1832, French chemist Charles Gerhardt sought to find a solution to the side effects of salicylic acid. He combined salicylic acid with acetyl chloride. This method proved to be effective but the process itself was very time consuming. Gerhardt hence gave up the idea.
In 1899, German chemist Felix Hoffmann was trying to find a drug to relieve the pain his father had to endure due to arthritis. Hoffman worked with Bayer pharmaceutical company. He extensively studied the work done by Gerhardt and came up with simpler method and thus rediscovered acetylsalicylic acid, the chemical name for aspirin. The name aspirin came from acetyl chloride and spiraea ulmaria (plant from which salicylic acid is extracted).
Bayer soon started marketing aspirin in powdered form. Aspirin tablets found their way to the market in 1914.
The fact that aspirin reduces the production of certain prostaglandins (hormone like chemicals) which are responsible for fever, pain and inflammation was discovered by British scientist John Vane.
Today, Aspirin is also known to reduce the risk of heart attacks.