George Rieveschl Discovers Benadryl

Diphenhydramine, which is more widely known in the United States as Benadryl, is a drug which is manufactured by McNeil-PPC, a subdivision of Johnson and Johnson.

It is currently being marketed as an over-the-counter antihistamine, antiemetic, sedative, and hypnotic. It has also been used in the treatment of the extra pyramidal side effects of typical antipsychotics. Diphenhydramine was one of the first antihistamines ever invented. Dr. George Rieveschl invented it in 1942.

The discovery of Benadryl was also significant because it was the first finding that specific receptors in capillaries can be affected by different compounds. “So there are now a whole series of antihistamines that will counter these different histamine receptors,” Dr. Bernstein said. “It was a key discovery.”

It was also a profitable one. In 1943, Dr. Rieveschl left the University of Cincinnati to test his discovery at the laboratories of Parke-Davis, then the nation’s largest drug manufacturer. Parke-Davis, now a subsidiary of the Pfizer Corporation, later bought the rights to Benadryl and started marketing it as a prescription drug in May 1946.

Did you know that Benadryl, a common drug for allergy relief, has been discovered 60 years ago, and was first marketed in May 1946? The University of Cincinnati, where the medication was discovered, honored George Rieveschl last week for his discovery. Like many other discoveries, its discovery was unexpected; Rieveschl was originally working on a drug against muscle spasms, and ended up with an antihistamine.

It was hundreds of times more active against histamine than the other drugs we were looking at. It was obvious that it had a special feeling toward antagonizing histamine, and with the activity it had against histamine, it ought to be tried out against allergies and things.”

— George Rieveschl

George Rieveschl invented Benadryl in the 1940s while doing research on potential muscle relaxers. In doing so, he discovered more about histamine receptors in the body which allowed for the development of even more drugs to interact with those specific receptors. Allergy-sufferers the world over have breathed more easily ever since.

I am happy to learn that he profited nicely from his invention. He deserved it.

Because he had invented the drug before he worked for the company [Parke-Davis], Dr. Rieveschl received a 5 percent royalty for the 17-year length of the patent. Based on sales that rose to about $6 million a year by the early 1960s, that proved quite lucrative for him. . . .