The ancient Egyptians and Greeks, and the American Indians, sometimes chewed the leaves of the willow tree and other plants to relieve pain. But no one knew why these plants helped fight pain until in the 19th century, when scientists found that these plants contain pain-relieving drugs called salicylates.
But in their pure form, these drugs made people nauseous. So in 1898, a German chemist named Felix Hoffman found a way to make a salicylate drug that didn’t upset the stomach. This new drug was called acetylsalicylic acid, but we know it much better today as “aspirin.”
At first, aspirin was sold only by prescription, and came in powdered form. Aspirin tablets didn’t appear until 1915. Today, Americans take about 22 billion aspirins a year, about 100 per person, and aspirin is the most widely used medicinal drug in the world.