Edward Stone (priest)

Edward Stone (1702–1768) was a Church of England rector who discovered the active ingredient of aspirin.


Edward Stone was born in Princes Risborough, Buckinghamshire, England, in 1702 into a family that had been farming in Princes Risborough since 1580. His parents were Edward Stone (a "gentleman farmer") and Elizabeth Reynolds.

Stone went to Wadham College, Oxford, in 1720 where he later became a fellow. From 1738 he held livings at Horsenden, Buckinghamshire and Drayton near Banbury, Oxfordshire. He married Elizabeth Grubbe at Mercers Hall Chapel, Cheapside (a non-parochial church), London, on 7 July 1741. In 1745 he became chaplain to Sir Jonathan Cope at Bruern Abbey and served various curacies around Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire. He was also a Justice of the Peace (JP) for Oxfordshire, actively enforcing the Poor Law.

Stone once lived on the site of the Hitchman Brewery in West Street, Chipping Norton, where an Oxfordshire blue plaque has now been erected.[1] He was buried in Horsenden in 1768.


The use of salicylic acid and its derivatives dates back at least to 400 BC when Hippocrates (440−377 B.C.) prescribed the bark and leaves of the willow tree (rich in salicin) to reduce pain and fever. In 100 AD Dioscorides mentioned willow leaves and a hundred years later Pliny the Elder and Galen also mentioned them. It was forgotten by doctors in the Middle Ages but lived on in folk medicine. The pain-relieving effects of Salix (willow) and Spiraea (meadow sweet) species was known in many cultures.

Walking one day through a meadow near Chipping Norton, while suffering from various "agues", Stone was prompted to detach and nibble at a small piece of bark from a willow tree and was struck by its extremely bitter taste. Knowing that the bark of the Peruvian cinchona tree − from which quinine (used in the treatment of malarial fevers) is derived − has a similarly bitter taste, he surmised that the willow might also have therapeutic properties. Stone's interest in willows was due to the ancient "doctrine of signatures" — whereby the cause of a disease offers a clue to its treatment.

According to Stone:

"As this tree delights in a moist or wet soil, where agues chiefly abound, the general maxim that many natural maladies carry their cures along with them or that their remedies lie not far from their causes was so very apposite to this particular case that I could not help applying it; and that this might be the intention of Providence here, I must own, had some little weight with me".

He experimented by gathering and drying a pound of willow bark and creating a powder which he gave to about fifty persons: it was consistently found to be a ‘powerful astringent and very efficacious in curing agues and intermitting disorders.’ He had discovered salicylic acid, the active ingredient in aspirin. On 25 April 1763, he sent a letter announcing his discovery to George Parker, 2nd Earl of Macclesfield, President of the Royal Society. The letter survives to this day.[2]

A less corrosive compound of salicylic acid, acetylsalicylic acid, produced by reacting sodium salicylate with acetyl chloride, was developed by Felix Hoffmann and Arthur Eichengrün and later marketed by Bayer under the name Aspirin which was registered as a trade name on 23 January 1899.


Stone was also interested in astronomy and in 1763 published The whole doctrine of parallaxes explained and illustrated by an arithmetical and geometrical construction of the transit of Venus over the sun, June 6th, 1761. Enriched with a new and general method of determining the places where any transit of this planet, and especially that which will be June 3d, 1769, may be best observed.

Edward or Edmund?

Edward Stone's letter to the Royal Society was published in the Philosophical Transactions for 1763 with the heading "...from the Rev. Mr. Edmund Stone of Chipping Norton in Oxfordshire" whereas at the end of the letter his name was signed Edward Stone. This has caused some confusion as there was (at least) one other man called Edmund Stone who published scientific works. Stone's first name was Edward, and Edmund was a mistake made by a clerk of the Royal Society when transcribing the letter.[3]


  1. Blue plaque to Stone on Hitchman Brewery, Chipping Norton
  2. Stone E (1763). "An Account of the Success of the Bark of the Willow in the Cure of Agues. In a Letter to the Right Honourable George Earl of Macclesfield, President of R. S. from the Rev. Mr. Edmund Stone, of Chipping-Norton in Oxfordshire". Philosophical Transactions (1683-1775). 53: 195–200. doi:10.1098/rstl.1763.0033. JSTOR 105721.
  3. Pierpoint WS (July 1997). "Edward Stone (1702-1768) and Edmund Stone (1700-1768): confused identities resolved". Notes Rec R Soc Lond. 51 (2): 211–7. doi:10.1098/rsnr.1997.0018. PMID 11619434.

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