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Aspro

The now widely used pain killer ‘Aspro,’ a high-grade aspirin product, was first produced in 1915 by a Melbourne pharmacist George Nicholas and an industrial experimenter, Henry Woolf Smith. Although competing with Aspirin (produced by the German firm Bayer), Aspro later took over a substantial part of the international market.

Prior to World War I, limited supplies of Aspirin or acetyl salicylic acid were imported from Germany. As supplies began to diminish, a young Australian chemist, George Nicholas, attempted his own production in a small pharmacy in Melbourne. The product was made by reacting salicylic acid with an acrid smelling liquid, acetic anhydride, while being heated. Although the patent rights to production of Aspirin and the trade mark covering the name were the property of Bayer, a German chemical firm, patent cover had not been obtained for Australia, even though the trade mark 'Aspirin' was well known.

Nicholas' early efforts, in 1914, to produce a very impure form of aspirin crystals with intermixed liquor and purification at first proved difficult. However, he was happily joined by Harry W. Smith, an industrial experimenter who persevered through many tedious experiments in attempting to refine the crystals, which he finally completed by solution and reprecipitation in ether. A pure aspirin was produced that more than met the purity requirements of the British Pharmacopoeia. There remained only the problem of marketing the product by way of producing a fine grain tablet.

Initially called 'Nicholas Aspirin,' the product name was changed to 'Aspro,' from the last two letters of the name Nicholas, and the first three of the word product. Two additions to the firm helped ensure its future success: R. Rowson, a mechanical innovator and improvisor, who extended the tablet manufacturing, and George Davies, an aggressive marketing man, who captured the market, and saw monthly sales top ?4000. This led to the need for new, faster tableting machines, and Rowson went to America to arrange the purchase of the best and latest machines. Whilst there, he heard of the Sanitape packaging press which had been invented to disperse seeds for farmers. The inventors then experimented with this process, and were able to apply it to dispensing tablets - it was a process ahead of its time.

The new, faster tableting machines were used along with a Sanitape packaging press which dispersed tablets one at a time on to a paper strip. This strip was then folded over lengthwise, totally enclosing the tablets. The paper was then folded again into a zig-zag and waxed over to preclude moisture, a necessary feature for Aspro. Apart from the protection given the tablets by Sanitape there was the sheer convenience - a few wrapped tablets could be broken off the zig-zag and slipped into pockets or purses.

Other technical advances were also being pursued, such as the drying of starch, an ingredient of the tablet which allowed it to break up more easily when swallowed. It was also about this time that the name of the firm was changed from G. R. Nicholas & Co. to Nicholas Proprietary Limited, whose modern history is better known.

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