Felix Hoffmann was born in Ludwigsburg, Germany, in 1868, the son of an industrialist. After finishing school, he initially aimed for a career as a pharmacist. His work in the field of pharmacy fascinated him so much that he decided to broaden his knowledge in this field by studying chemistry. In 1891 he graduated magna cum laude from the University of Munich. Two years later he earned his doctorate, also magna cum laude, after completing his thesis entitled “On certain derivatives of dihydroanthracene.”
On the recommendation of eventual Nobel Prize laureate Professor Adolf von Baeyer, under whom Hoffmann had studied, he joined “Farbenfabriken vorm. Friedr. Bayer & Co.” in 1894 to work as a chemist in the chemical laboratory.
It was mostly by chance that he made a discovery of historic significance on August 10, 1897. By acetylating salicylic acid with acetic acid, he succeeded in creating acetylsalicylic acid (ASA) in a chemically pure and stable form. The pharmacologist responsible for verifying these results was skeptical at first, yet the extent of this pharmaceutical wonder became clear once several large-scale studies to investigate the substance’s efficacy and tolerability had been completed: Hoffmann had discovered a pain-relieving, fever-lowering and anti-inflammatory substance. The company then worked flat out to develop a cost-effective production process that would allow the promising active ingredient to be supplied as a pharmaceutical product. In 1899 it was launched for the first time under the trade name Aspirin™, initially as a powder supplied in glass bottles. Aspirin™ has made the Bayer name world-famous like no other drug product.
Shortly after the synthesis of acetylsalicylic acid, Hoffmann was made head of the pharmaceutical marketing department. Two years later he was granted full power of attorney. By the time he retired in 1928, his discovery was already a worldwide success. Yet the “inventor” of Aspirin™ remained unknown to the international public. He lived in Switzerland out of the public eye until his death in 1946. Felix Hoffmann was never married and had no children.