What was the first medicine to appear in tablet form?

I know that back in the ‘olden days’ medicines were mostly in salve, poultice, or liquid form…being that medicines were originally herbal and such in nature. Who decided to reduce these chemicals and herbs to powdery form and shape them into a tablet for swallowing? And also, how was that received?

It seems to me that a) it would seem like a miracle, no mess no taste, no odor, easy storage but also b) the public wouldn’t buy it, and by buy it I mean, believe that it actually worked.

I’ve seen ‘antique’ diet pills that were actually packaged tapeworms, but I don’t feel like that counts. I’m talking about white chalky pills, since I assume that’s what was first.

Bayer Aspirin was available in powder form starting in 1899, and in tablets from 1915. [cite]

(And in water-soluble tablets from 1901. I guess like Alka Seltzer without the fizzy bit.)

If you want to include “patent” medicines, then I can show you ads from the 1860’s with “medicines” in tablet form.

According to A Short History of Pills they’ve been around for millenia.

WOW Qadgop. I was going to say 1900 at the EARLIEST.

And I figured Aspirin was first on the scene. That’s pretty fascinating. I’ve realized of late that I am fascinated with firsts. I want to have list of the first examples of everything :slight_smile:

The Ten Commandments - to heal the soul.

:smiley: ;j

I wanted to say I’ve seen pill in some stories a few hundred years old. The text went something like this. The doctor gave her a pill to swallow consisting of “whatever” leaves rolled into a tight ball.

I don’t know about the word pill satisfying the question’s parameters. The poster said tablet form, and though all tablets are pills, not all pills are tablets. A rolled pill is only a tablet in a very loose sense. Pharmacist used to make the medicines for people in victorian England, and some were definately tablets. Something like this for example can be found in stories of the time. Take one cloral tablet before bed to induce sleep.

The Elements of Murder: A History of Poison, by John Emsley

The Elements of materia medica and therapeutics v.1, 1852

Harmonious Discord brings up a good point. The ancient rolled pills of crushed herbs bunched up isn’t really fitting. I’m talking about the generally tasteless, odorless and unidentifiable form of, say, an aspirin. You can’t look at an aspirin and see what it’s broken down form is, for example.

And Bryan Ekers receives 10 complimentary chicken fingers from me for his post :smiley:

Pharmacists compounded medicines into pills from an early date. Tablets are from a mechanical breakthrough to do the work neatly, uniformly, and firmly while still being digestible in the system.

Aspirin tablets are not quite the same thing as the aspirin pills that might have been available much earlier at the corner apothecary. But there is a direct line between them that probably includes several pill-making machines that were bought by individual pharmacies, before they were introduced on an industrial scale.

Finding a “first” in all that is a matter of your definition.

Some links:



So modern tablet-making goes at least as far back as 1885, but pill making machines were developed all over the world decades earlier.

To flesh out the details of this stage a little, in his standard biography of Henry Wellcome (Hodder and Stoughton, 1994) Robert Rhodes James credits Brockedon - and always wager on Rhodes James for accuracy over Vernon Coleman - and his 1843 patent (no. 9977) as the start of the “revolution in pharmacy” in the second half of the century. To be clear, his idea was to compress powders into pills, rather than roll paste into them. The method used a special device, but relied on the manufacturer using a mallet on each pill, so it was inherently slow.
Rhodes Jamed continues:

There were still problems of quality control and consumer resistence at this stage, but mechanically mass-produced compressed tablets were thus beginning to spread by 1880. And Burroughs and Wellcome were about to make a fortune, multiple times over …

Incidentally, Brockedon is also moderately notable as an artist.

You think aspirin is tasteless and odorless???

Aspirin is probably one of the most easily identified pills by taste and/or smell.

And I’m not really clear on the specific definition you want to use on “Pill”. Certainly various plants and extracted compounds (and various combinations thereof) have been minced fine and formed together into small ‘pills’ since time immemorable.

Or are you asking when the first “pill machine” was invented?

Exapno’s first link can’t be the first “readily dissoluble pill”. Every fan of Sherlock Holmes is familiar with his first appearance in A Study in Scarlet. Near the end of the first part, Holmes finds a box of pills on the victim and gives it to Watson, asking his opinion. Watson says something like “from their lightness and transparency, I would say they were soluble in water”, which proves to be the case. Watson is pretty clearly enunciating from his medical experience (which is really Arthur Conan Doyle’s medical experience), so there were easily water-soluble pills well before ASiS was published in 1887. (Watson doesn’t call this a new invention, or act as if it is).
Pills, as noted, go much farther back than this. There is indirect evidence in the form of pillboxes in museums and in pictures and engravings. Hogarth has them in his Marriage-a-la-Mode series from the early 18th century.

First mass machine-made readily dissolvable pill. I thought I made clear that machines for small-scale compounding had been available for decades.

Ex, the line you quote doesn’t aqualuify that it’s the first machine made dissoluble pill. It seems to be claiming that it’s the first dissolvable pill. That might be bad writing on their part.

Nicholas Culpeper (1614-1654), describes the manufacture of pills and “troches” (“they are usually little round flat cakes, or you may make them square if you will”) in his Complete Herbal and English Physician Enlarged. (Page 296 of my edition. The omnibus volume of Culpeper is a bit confusing in the way it’s organized; troches and pills appear inchapters 13 and 14 of Section II, The way of making and keeping all necessary Compounds, in the … err … bit of the book that’s entitled Directions for making Syrups, Conserves, &c., &c.)

There’s nothing in those chapters that suggests pill-making is original to Culpeper, so … err … well, I guess it means that people were making pills well before 1654. Probably. Maybe.