History of aspirin | interwar years

Interwar years

Bayer began advertising directly to American consumers just before the expiration of the aspirin patent. This ad, from The New York Times, 19 February 1917, emphasizes Bayer as the "One Real Aspirin" in anticipation of legal competition in the American market.

With the coming of the deadly Spanish flu pandemic in 1918, aspirin—by whatever name—secured a reputation as one of the most powerful and effective drugs in the pharmacopeia of the time. Its fever-reducing properties gave many sick patients enough strength to fight through the infection, and aspirin companies large and small earned the loyalty of doctors and the public—when they could manufacture or purchase enough aspirin to meet demand. Despite this, some people believed that Germans put the Spanish flu bug in Bayer aspirin, causing the pandemic as a war tactic.[2]:136–142

Newspaper ad for Bayer Aspirin from April 1918. The aspirin patent had expired, Bayer still had control over the Aspirin trademark, seen at the bottom of the ad, and a "patriotic" slogan to buy war bonds. Also shows the factory in New York State.

The U.S. ASA patent expired in 1917, but Sterling owned the aspirin trademark, which was the only commonly used term for the drug. In 1920, United Drug Company challenged the Aspirin trademark, which became officially generic for public sale in the U.S. (although it remained trademarked when sold to wholesalers and pharmacists). With demand growing rapidly in the wake of the Spanish flu, there were soon hundreds of "aspirin" brands on sale in the United States.[2]:151–152

Sterling Products, equipped with all of Bayer's U.S. intellectual property, tried to take advantage of its new brand as quickly as possible, before generic ASAs took over. However, without German expertise to run the Rensselaer plant to make aspirin and the other Bayer pharmaceuticals, they had only a finite aspirin supply and were facing competition from other companies. Sterling president William E. Weiss had ambitions to sell Bayer aspirin not only in the U.S., but to compete with the German Bayer abroad as well. Taking advantage of the losses Farbenfabriken Bayer (the German Bayer company) suffered through the reparation provisions of the Treaty of Versailles, Weiss worked out a deal with Carl Duisberg to share profits in the Americas, Australia, South Africa and Great Britain for most Bayer drugs, in return for technical assistance in manufacturing the drugs.[2]:144–150

Sterling also took over Bayer's Canadian assets as well as ownership of the Aspirin trademark which is still valid in Canada[23] and most of the world.[24] Bayer bought Sterling Winthrop in 1994 restoring ownership of the Bayer name and Bayer cross trademark in the US and Canada as well as ownership of the Aspirin trademark in Canada.

Diversification of market

Aspro packaging 1931

Between World War I and World War II, many new aspirin brands and aspirin-based products entered the market. The Australian company Nicholas Proprietary Limited, through the aggressive marketing strategies of George Davies, built Aspro into a global brand, with particular strength in Australia, New Zealand, and the U.K.[2]:153–161 American brands such as Burton's Aspirin, Molloy's Aspirin, Cal-Aspirin and St. Joseph Aspirin tried to compete with the American Bayer, while new products such Cafaspirin (aspirin with caffeine) and Alka-Seltzer (a soluble mix of aspirin and bicarbonate of soda) put aspirin to new uses.[2]:161–162 In 1925, the German Bayer became part of IG Farben, a conglomerate of former dye companies; IG Farben's brands of Aspirin and, in Latin America, the caffeinated Cafiaspirina (co-managed with Sterling Products) competed with less expensive aspirins such as Geniol.[4]:78,90

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