Thursday, September 15, 2011

The History Of Aspirin

One of the most common medications has a long and varied history. Some facts and history about Aspirin:
  • The Father of modern Medicine, Hippocrates, wrote about pain killers in the 5th century B.C.E. and mentioned a powder and tea made from the bark and leaves of the white willow tree that worked for headaches, pain and fever.
  • In 1829 scientists discovered that it was the compound called salicin in the willow and other plants that worked on headache, fever and pain.
  • Salicin was further chemically reduced to obtain pure salicylic acid, the actual substance that worked on pain and fever.
  • Pure salicylic acid was very hard on the stomach, so further research to combine it with another substance to make it more tolerable for the stomach lead to the production of acetylsalicylic acid. 
  • In 1899 Felix Hoffman, a German chemist that worked for the German dye and drug manufacturer Bayer found out that acetylsalicylic acid helped his father's arthritis pain.  He persuaded the company to manufacture the drug and it was patented in 1900.  The compound was given the name Aspirin - "A" from acetyl, "spir" from the spirea plant from which salicin was extracted, "in" was a common ending for drug names.
  • Aspirin in powder form was distributed to physicians and soon became the number one drug in the world.
  • By 1915 Aspirin was manufactured in tablet form and could be bought without a prescription.
  • At one time the Bayer company held the trademark rights to both Aspirin and Heroin (before it became illegal, naturally)
  • Aspirin's reputation as a pain and fever reducer was increased during the world-wide Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918-1919.
  • In 1948 a general practitioner  in California noticed that patients that he prescribed aspirin to did not have heart attacks.  He started to recommend taking aspirin for heart health. 
  • In 1952 children's chewable aspirin was introduced.
  • Aspirin's popularity waned in the early 1950's after the introduction of acetaminophen and ibuprofen.
  •  In the early 1970's scientists discovered that aspirin inhibits the production of inflammation-causing chemicals called prostaglandins in the body, thus reducing pain.
  • With research showing that daily aspirin therapy does help at risk patients from heart attacks, strokes and recurring heart attacks, aspirin sales increased.
  • Today more than 70 million pounds of aspirin are produced world wide per year, which makes it the most used drug in the world.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The History Of Silly Putty

The history of Silly Putty goes back to 1940 after the Japanese invaded the rubber-producing countries of the Far East and cut off the supply to the United States. With the subsequent hampering of war production, especially for tires, gas masks, rafts and boots, the government asked American industry to develop a synthetic rubber. 

Here's where the story gets controversial, for there was more than one person who claimed the discovery of Silly Putty.  Researchers for Dow Corning  Company and  General Electric Company both claimed discovery. The present manufacturer of Silly Putty, Crayola LLC, gives the credit to James Wright, a Scottish inventor that worked for General Electric in New Haven Connecticut in 1943.

The first Silly Putty was the result of the mixing of boric acid and silicone oil.  Wright found that the material would stretch if slowly pulled, but break if pulled rapidly. Rolled into a ball it would bounce, would not mold and had a high melting point. Despite these properties, Wright determined the substance was not suited for use as a rubber substitute and he sent samples to other scientists that came to the same conclusion.

The story goes that some of the substance was obtained by an owner of a toy store, Ruth Fallgatter.  She hired a marketing consultant, Peter Hodgson to market the bouncing putty and put it in here catalog. It out sold everything else in the catalog except for Crayola crayons, but Fallgetter did not continue to sell it. Hodgson saw its potential, and bought $147 worth of the substance. He named it Silly Putty, packed 1 ounce portions in plastic eggs that sold for a dollar each, and sold 250,000 of them in three days.  But the new business almost went under in 1951 with the start of the Korean War, as silicone, a primary ingredient of Silly Putty, was rationed.

After the war, production resumed. It was originally marketed as an adult item, but by 1955 children became the primary customers. The first advertisement for Silly Putty was produced by Hodgson in 1957 and premiered on The Howdy Doody Show.

In1961 Silly Putty went world wide and became a hit in Europe and The Soviet Union.  By the time Hodgson  died in 1976, over 300 million eggs of Silly Putty had been sold and his business was worth $140 million, making it one of the most successful toys of the 20th Century.  The following year Binney and Smith, the makers of Crayola crayons, bought the rights to it.  By 1987, production of Silly Putty was in excess of 2 million eggs annually. So while the name may be 'silly', the profits generated by this toy that was created by accident certainly aren't!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Pewter - Poor Man's Silver

At the dawn of civilization, man discovered that characteristics of familiar base metals could be changed by combining them. In correct proportions, the metals compliment each other and form an alloy. Along with bronze, pewter was one of the first alloys known to humans. The earliest piece of pewter found is from an Egyptian tomb from 1450 BC.

Pewter is an alloy of primarily tin and copper, with other metals such as antimony, bismuth and lead. Pewter was known in ancient China, Egypt, Greece and Rome. The oldest known pewter item has been dated to 1500 B.C.E. and was found in Egypt. In ancient times it was an alloy of 70% tin and 30% lead, and this high concentration of lead caused lead poisoning when the alloy was used to make eating and drinking utensils. The lead would leach out, especially if acidic food or drink came in contact with the alloy. Modern pewter alloys no longer use lead in them due to lead poisoning dangers, and consist of tin, copper, bismuth or antimony. Pewter is a shiny metal, and has been called 'poor man's silver'. As it is highly malleable with a relatively low melting point (approximately 460 degrees F) it has been used for many items. Plates, drinking mugs, steins, flatware, candlesticks, and for jewelry. Due to the softness of the metal, pewter is not suitable for making tools.

The use of pewter had its roots in Europe about the 11th century. Pewter crafting in England grew especially skilled in the Middle Ages, and the metal's popularity continued until the late 19th century. Pewter craftsmen in the Middle Ages developed many different grades of pewter, of which three were:
Fine Grade had between 95 and 99 percent tin and 5 to 1 percent copper. This grade of pewter was very shiny, and was used to make eating and drinking utensils for nobility and the upper classes. Trifle Grade was usually 92 percent tin, 1 to 6 percent copper and up to 4 percent lead. It was also used to make eating and drinking utensils, but was not as shiny.

Lay Grade could contain up to 15 percent lead and was not used for eating or drinking utensils. It was used for candlesticks, basins, and other items. There are relatively few existing examples of early pewter ware because the metal was so easy to melt down into new items.

There has been a modern resurgence in the use of pewter. By casting, spinning on a lathe, pounding into shape and other means, pewter is used for a variety of items. The relative softness and low melting point of the metal lends it well to highly detailed figurines. Drinking steins are still being made that use pewter for the decorative lids, and jewelry of all types are cast from it. Given time, pewter will eventually oxidize and develop a satiny gray patina that can either be polished off or left on. 'Poor Man's Silver' remains a very useful and attractive alloy over 4,500 years since it was first discovered.