Innovators through history: Felix Hoffmann

To mark the launch of the NZ Innovators Awards for 2012, we're celebrating a series of vaunted innovators and inventors throughout time.

Felix Hoffmann of Bayer invented aspirin

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Who: Felix Hoffmann

What: Aspirin. By acetylating salicylic acid with acetic acid, Hoffmann succeeded in creating acetylsalicylic acid (ASA) in a chemically pure and stable form. For the masses, headaches and sore joints were eased.

When: 1897

Impact:  Before the days of musicians and socialites dabbling in illegal narcotics, aspirin was the drug of the late 1890s. Users became somewhat disappointed when the only effect of taking it was relief from pain and inflammation. The medication proved popular amongst injured athletes and the elderly. Aspirin was also a huge boon for Hoffmann’s employer, Bayer, which propelled it to the forefront of the pharmaceutical industry.

Power, fame and money: Hoffmann was propelled to the dizzying heights of Bayer’s pharmaceutical marketing department. He stayed with Bayer until his retirement in 1928, which indicates he was either fiercely loyal or grossly underpaid for his innovation. Hoffmann was no household name despite his invention being in every home. He lived reclusively in Switzerland until his death in 1946 and had no wife or children. Rumour has it that on his deathbed, Hoffmann’s only regret was that he hadn’t entered any industry competitions to promote his innovative talent.

Legacy: In 2002, Hoffmann was inducted into the US National Inventors Hall of Fame, which he missed due to a bad migraine and inflamed joints.

Don’t wait a century like Felix Hoffmann did to be recognised for your great invention. Entries are now open for the Innovators Awards at

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