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Technology in Australia 1788-1988Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering
Table of Contents

Chapter 12

I The First Half Century - The Initial Struggle

II The Second Fifty Years - The Start Of Expansion

III The Third Fifty Years - Federation And The First World War
i General Conditions
ii Some Early Innovative Approaches
iii Concrete Pipes
iv Cement-fibre Pipes
v Concrete Products
vi The Birth of the Iron and Steel Industry

IV The Fourth Period - Second World War To The Present



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Some Early Innovative Approaches

ASPRO and Nicholas International Ltd.

Prior to the First World War limited supplies of Aspirin or acetyl salicylic acid were imported from Germany but as supplies began to diminish, a young Australian chemist, George Nicholas, attempted its production in a small pharmacy in Melbourne. The product is made by reacting salicylic acid with an acrid smelling liquid, acetic anhydride while being heated. The patent rights to production of Aspirin and the trade mark covering the name were the property of the German chemical firm Bayer but, fortunately, Bayer had not applied for patent cover in Australia, although the Trade Mark, Aspirin, was well known.

Nicholas' early experiments in 1914 were to produce a very impure form of aspirin crystals with intermixed liquor and purification appeared very difficult. However, he was happily joined by Harry W. Shmith, an industrial experimenter who carried through many of the tedious experiments attempting to refine the crystals, finally by solution and reprecipitation in ether. A pure aspirin was produced that more than met the purity requirements of the British Pharmacopoeia and the problem of marketing the product became one of producing a fine grain tablet.

Two additions to the firm helped ensure its continuity: one R. Rowson was a mechanical innovator and improvisor who extended the tablet manufacturing to meet a market that the second addition, George Davies, an aggressive marketing man, was about to capture. About this time the name was changed from Nicholas Aspirin to the now famous ASPRO and partly helped to overcome a smear campaign directed towards the firm in 1917. It was Davies' innovative marketing that heralded final success; he adopted the now classic three pronged attack of gift offer, a defined market area and hard-sell advertising. Free three-penny packets of Aspro tablets were distributed in different States one at a time; there was every confidence that the product was good, would relieve headaches and cold symptoms etc. and that once tried, would gain acceptance. By May 1919 monthly sales had topped 4000.

New faster tableting machines were, however, necessary and Rowson went to America and arranged purchase of the best and latest machines. While there, he heard of the Sanitape packaging press which had been invented to disperse seeds for farmers. The inventors were then experimenting with using the process for dispensing tablets; it was a process ahead of its time.

Rowson saw how the machine dispersed tablets one at a time on to a paper strip which 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. The Nicholases not only approved the recommendation to purchase by Rowson but negotiated exclusive rights to the Sanitape process.

About this time Rowson came up with an important invention of his own. The tablet making machines then in use required a coarse powder to operate effectively. For Aspro, this meant a granulating process involving ether, a liquid that produced good product but was expensive and dangerous to handle. Rowson discovered that by applying heavy hydraulic pressure to the powder, it turned into a solid cake which could be broken up and fed to tablet machines, eliminating the ether process.

Other technical advances were being pursued as, for example, into the drying of starch which was 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.

Organisations in Australian Science at Work - G. R. Nicholas & Co.; Nicholas International Ltd; Nicholas Proprietary Ltd

People in Bright Sparcs - Davies, George; Nicholas, George; Rowson, R.; Shmith, Harry W.

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© 1988 Print Edition pages 861 - 862, Online Edition 2000
Published by Australian Science and Technology Heritage Centre, using the Web Academic Resource Publisher