Letter: Aspirin's `invention'

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The Independent Culture

Aspirin's `invention'

Sir: Your report on the recent claims of Dr Sneader reveals a number of misunderstandings that have caused similar claims in the past ("Nazi robbed Jew of credit for aspirin", 4 September).

The many documents Bayer retains from the late 1890s when acetylsalicylic acid (ASA), the active ingredient in aspirin, was first synthesised, prove it was the work of Dr Felix Hoffmann rather than his colleague Dr Arthur Eichengrun.

Dr Sneader claims that Hoffmann worked on the instructions of Dr Eichengrun, who was his supervisor. In fact Dr Hoffmann and Dr Eichengrun were colleagues at the same level.

In subsequent years the careers of Eichengrun and Hoffman continued to take a parallel course. Dr Eichengrun was, however, in charge of a chemist by the name Fritz Hofmann. This similarity between the names has given rise to confusion.

It is also not true that the development of the active ingredient in aspirin was not ascribed to Felix Hoffmann until 1934. This happened on 10 August 1897, as the entry in the laboratory journal shows. The original journal is in Bayer's archive.

Indeed, in the American patent document for acetylsalicylic acid dated 1899, Hoffmann is given as the "inventor". Dr Eichengrun at no time raised any objections to this. He did not make such a claim until 1949, at the age of 82 and more than 50 years after ASA had been synthesised.


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