2015, a very significant year for all Australians and New Zealanders, marks the centenary of the "Landing at Gallipoli" on 25th April 1914 and the birth of the ANZAC legend. It also marks the centenary of "Aspro" and the birth of a giant international pharmaceutical company that began in Australia as a direct result of World War I.
Felix Hoffman, a German Chemist, first synthesized aspirin, acetylsalicylic acid (2-Ethanoyloxybenzene carboxylic acid), in 1897 while working for the German pharmaceutical company Bayer AG. This was the first major product released by Bayer AG and the trademark Aspirin was registered worldwide. Prior to 1914 Germany exported Aspirin all over the world.
German supplies of Aspirin to Australia (and other countries) were cut off with the outbreak of World War I in 1914, prompting the then Attorney-General W. M. Hughes (and the 7th Australian Prime Minister from 1915 to 1923) to suspend German patents and trademarks and grant them to any Australian-based manufacturer who could meet the requirements for purity and safety.
George Richard Rich Nicholas, a pharmacist who had opened a pharmacy in Punt Road, Windsor in Victoria in 1912, set out to make acetylsalicylic acid. Using kitchen utensils, he measured out quantities of the white salicylic acid powder and the acrid smelling acetic anhydride liquid and reacted them in kerosene tins. Needless to say, although he succeeded in producing acetylsalicylic acid it was impure! With the help of Henry Woolf Shmith, an entrepreneur, the experiments continued until they had pure samples of acetylsalicylic acid. In 1915 their product was tested by the government analyst and found to comply with the requirements of the British Pharmacopoeia so Shmith, Nicholas & Co. were granted a licence to make and sell aspirin in Australia.
Their acetylsalicylic acid product was originally marketed as Nicholas-Aspirin, but George was concerned that the name Aspirin could be reclaimed by Bayer after the war, so, in 1917 the name Aspro was registered.
After the war, in 1921, the name of the company making Aspro was changed to Nicholas Pty Ltd and moved from Windsor to South Melbourne. In 1923, New Zealand began production of Aspro. Between 1925 and 1927 sales of Aspro were expanding in Europe and Asia. In 1927, George's brother Alfred set up the company Aspro Ltd in England, which became a public company in 1935. In 1969 Nicholas Australia Ltd bought out the English Aspro-Nicholas Ltd, which, in 1970, became Nicholas International Ltd. In 1981 Nicholas International Ltd merged with Kiwi International Ltd (makers of the famous Kiwi shoe polish) to form the Australian public company Nicholas Kiwi. In 1984 Sara Lee acquired Nicholas Kiwi, and in 1988 Piramal India acquired Nicholas Laboratories from Sara Lee.
Ready to learn about the chemistry of aspirin and aspro?
Go to the Free Chemistry Tutorial on Aspirin at AUS-e-TUTE to read about the reactions that produced aspirin as well as the physical and chemical properties of aspirin.
(AUS-e-TUTE Members should log-in to the Test Centre and use the "Members ONLY" Aspirin Tutorial).
AUS-e-TUTE members also have access to other learning resources, such as games, tests and exams on the chemistry of aspirin.
Find out about AUS-e-TUTE membership here.
And you can become an AUS-e-TUTE member here, and start improving your chemistry results today!