Year
1998

FDA approves Viagra

On this day in 1998, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approves use of the drug Viagra, an oral medication that treats impotence.

Sildenafil, the chemical name for Viagra, is an artificial compound that was originally synthesized and studied to treat hypertension (high blood pressure) and angina pectoris (a form of cardiovascular disease). Chemists at the Pfizer pharmaceutical company found, however, that while the drug had little effect on angina, it could induce penile erections, typically within 30 to 60 minutes. Seeing the economic opportunity in such a biochemical effect, Pfizer decided to market the drug for impotence. Sildenafil was patented in 1996, and a mere two years later–a stunningly short time compared to other drugs–it was approved by the FDA for use in treating “erectile dysfunction,” the new clinical name for impotence. Though unconfirmed, it is believed the drug was invented by Peter Dunn and Albert Wood.

Viagra’s massive success was practically instantaneous. In the first year alone, the $8-$10 pills yielded about a billion dollars in sales. Viagra’s impact on the pharmaceutical and medical industries, as well as on the public consciousness, was also enormous. Though available by prescription only, Viagra was marketed on television, famously touted by ex-presidential candidate Bob Dole, then in his mid-70s. Such direct-to-consumer marketing was practically unprecedented for prescription drugs (now, sales and marketing account for approximately 30 percent of the pharmaceutical industry’s costs, in some cases more than research and development). The drug was also offered over the internet–customers needed only to fill out an “online consultation” to receive samples.

An estimated 30 million men in the United States suffer from erectile dysfunction and a wave of new Viagra competitors, among them Cialis (tadalafil) and Levitra (vardenafil), has blown open the market. Drug companies are now not just targeting older men like Dole, but men in their 30s and 40s, too. As with many drugs, the long-term effects of Viagra on men’s health are still unclear (Viagra does carry warnings for those who suffer from heart trouble), but its popularity shows no signs of slowing. To date, over 20 million Americans have tried it, and that number is sure to increase as the baby boomer population continues to age.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Khrushchev becomes Soviet premier

On March 27, 1958, Soviet First Secretary Nikita Khrushchev replaces Nicolay Bulganin as Soviet premier, becoming the first leader since Joseph Stalin to simultaneously hold the USSR’s two top offices. Khrushchev, born into a Ukrainian peasant family in 1894, worked as a mine ...read more

Earthquake rocks Alaska

The strongest earthquake in American history, measuring 8.4 on the Richter scale, slams southern Alaska, creating a deadly tsunami. Some 125 people were killed and thousands injured. The massive earthquake had its epicenter in the Prince William Sound, about eight miles northeast ...read more

Germans launch last of their V-2s

On this day, in a last-ditch effort to deploy their remaining V-2 missiles against the Allies, the Germans launch their long-range rockets from their only remaining launch site, in the Netherlands. Almost 200 civilians in England and Belgium were added to the V-2 casualty toll. ...read more

Bombing of Cambodia to continue

The White House announces that, at the request of Cambodian President Lon Nol, the bombing of Cambodia will continue until communist forces cease military operations and agree to a cease-fire. In March 1970, Lon Nol had overthrown Prince Norodom Sihanouk in a bloodless coup. ...read more

March Madness is born

The University of Oregon defeats The Ohio State University 46–33 on this day in 1939 to win the first-ever NCAA men’s basketball tournament. The Final Four, as the tournament became known, has grown exponentially in size and popularity since 1939. By 2005, college basketball had ...read more

Mexicans execute defenders of Goliad

In a disastrous setback for the Texans resisting Santa Anna’s dictatorial regime, the Mexican army defeats and executes 417 Texas revolutionaries at Goliad. Long accustomed to enjoying considerable autonomy from their Mexican rulers, many Anglo Texan settlers reacted with alarm ...read more

Jumbo jets collide at Canary Islands airport

On this day in 1977, two 747 jumbo jets crash into each other on the runway at an airport in the Canary Islands, killing 582 passengers and crew members. Both Boeing 747s were charter jets that were not supposed to be at the Los Rodeos Airport on Santa Cruz de Tenerife that day. ...read more

TV Marti begins broadcasting to Cuba

The U.S. government begins the operation of TV Marti, which broadcast television programs into communist Cuba. The project marked yet another failed attempt to undermine the regime of Cuban leader Fidel Castro. TV Marti was put together under the auspices of the Voice of America, ...read more

Lincoln, Sherman and Grant meet

On this day in 1865, President Abraham Lincoln meets with Union generals Ulysses S. Grant and William T. Sherman at City Point, Virginia, to plot the last stages of the Civil War. Lincoln went to Virginia just as Grant was preparing to attack Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s ...read more

Toyota founder dies

Kiichiro Toyoda, founder of the Toyota Motor Corporation, which in 2008 surpassed America’s General Motors as the world’s largest automaker, dies at the age of 57 in Japan on this day 1952. Toyoda was born in Japan on June 11, 1894. His father Sakichi Toyoda was an inventor of ...read more