Here, Dad, Try This
Felix figured right. In 1897, while working in a lab at Bayer's headquarters in Elberfeld, Germany, Hoffmann the younger, then 29, synthesized acetylsalicylic acid from a chemical similar to one found in willow-tree bark, creating the pain-relieving compound now known as aspirin. When the drug hit pharmacies in 1899, it became the world's bestselling treatment for pain, fever and arthritis. And when it was made available without a prescription, in 1915, says Weisman, it became "the first drug mass-produced and marketed directly to the consumer." With spectacular success: Today, Hoffmann's invention is the most popular drug on earth, with some 50 billion pills downed each year (29 billion in the U.S. alone) and adherents that include Pope John Paul II. Doctors recommend it to ward off strokes and heart disease, athletes use it to thin their blood and improve circulation, and who hasn't tried it for a headache or sore muscles? Burmese tribesmen wear strung tablets as an amulet against pain, says Bayer spokesman Hartmut Alsfasser.
The never-married Felix, who retired in 1928 after 30 more presumably pain-free years at Bayer, died in 1946. But, says Weisman, "this is his legacy. Most of us don't do as much to help our parents."