Skip to main content

1844–1846: The Discovery and Demonstration of Anesthesia

  • Chapter
The Wondrous Story of Anesthesia

Abstract

Gardner Colton, a Columbia University medical student, began the discovery of anesthesia by offering (for pay) a public entertainment, a demonstration of the intoxicating effect of nitrous oxide. The dentist Horace Wells attended a demonstration in Hartford, observing that while inebriated, Samuel Cooley injured himself, apparently not feeling the injury as it occurred. Seeking a means to practice painless dentistry, Wells asked Colton to attend his office the next day, and to administer nitrous oxide to Wells while an associate, John Riggs, pulled one of Wells’ teeth. Wells felt no pain, and then gave nitrous oxide to several of his patients, practicing painless dentistry on most of them. His success prompted him to approach the great surgeon Warren at the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), requesting that he allow Wells to attempt a public demonstration at the Harvard Medical School. The demonstration failed, the audience denouncing Wells for his “humbug.”

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this chapter

Chapter
USD 29.95
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • Available as PDF
  • Read on any device
  • Instant download
  • Own it forever
eBook
USD 189.00
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • Available as EPUB and PDF
  • Read on any device
  • Instant download
  • Own it forever
Hardcover Book
USD 249.99
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • Durable hardcover edition
  • Dispatched in 3 to 5 business days
  • Free shipping worldwide - see info

Tax calculation will be finalised at checkout

Purchases are for personal use only

Institutional subscriptions

References

  1. Fenster J. Ether day: the strange tale of America’s greatest medical discovery and the haunted men who made it. New York: Harper Collins; 2001.

    Google Scholar 

  2. Wolfe RJ. Tarnished idol: William Thomas Green Morton and the introduction of surgical anesthesia: a chronicle of the ether controversy. San Francisco: Norman Publishing; 2001.

    Google Scholar 

  3. Wolfe RJ, Patterson RW. Charles Thomas Jackson, “the head behind the hands”: applying science to implement discovery and invention in early nineteenth century America. Novato, CA: J. Norman History of Science.com; 2008.

    Google Scholar 

  4. Keys TE. The history of surgical anesthesia. Park Ridge: Wood Library-Museum of Anesthesiology; 1996.

    Google Scholar 

  5. Thorwald J. The century of the surgeon. New York:Pantheon Books, Inc.; 1956.

    Google Scholar 

  6. Nuland SB. Chapter VII. Nitrous oxide: a discovery in vain. The origins of anesthesia. Birmington: Leslie B. Adams, Jr.; 1983.

    Google Scholar 

  7. Garraway SM, Xu Q, Inturrisi CE. siRNA-mediated knockdown of the NR1 subunit gene of the NMDA receptor attenuates formalin-induced pain behaviors in adult rats. J Pain. 2009;10:380–90.

    Article  CAS  PubMed Central  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  8. Desai SP, Desai MS, Maddi R, Battit GE. A tale of two paintings: depictions of the first public demonstration of ether anesthesia. Anesthesiology. 2007;106:1046–50.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  9. Artusio JF Jr. Di-ethyl ether analgesia: a detailed description of the first stage of ether anesthesia in man. J Pharmacol Exp Ther. 1954;111:343–8.

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  10. Artusio JF Jr. Ether analgesia during major surgery. J Am Med Assoc. 1955;157:33–6.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  11. Astyrakaki E, Papaioannou A, Askitopoulou H. References to anesthesia, pain, and analgesia in the Hippocratic Collection. Anesth Analg. 2010;110:188–94.

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  12. Bergman NA. The genesis of surgical anesthesia. Park Ridge, IL: Wood Library-Museum of Anesthesiology; 1998. pp. 1–448.

    Google Scholar 

  13. Hatfield MP. Lest we forget: a tribute to Dr. Samuel Guthrie, the American discoverer of chloroform. Chic Clin Pure Water J. 1905;18:179–83.

    Google Scholar 

  14. Campagna JA. The end of religious fatalism: Boston as the venue for the demonstration of ether for the intentional relief of pain. Surgery. 2005;138:46–55.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  15. Stanley P. For fear of pain. British surgery, 1790–1850. New York: Rodopi; 2003.

    Google Scholar 

  16. Papper EM. The influence of romantic literature on the medical understanding of pain and suffering’the stimulus to the discovery of anesthesia. Perspectives Biol Med. 1992;35:401–15.

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  17. Larson CP Jr, Eger EI II, Muallem M, Buechel DR, Munson ES, Eisele JH. The effects of diethyl ether and methoxyflurane on ventilation: II. A comparative study in man. Anesthesiology. 1969;30:174–84.

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  18. Hornbein TF, Eger EI II, Winter PM, Smith G, Wetstone D, Smith KH. The minimum alveolar concentration of nitrous oxide in man. Anesth Analg. 1982;61:553–6.

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  19. Wikiquote:en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Incorrect_predictions

    Google Scholar 

  20. Snow J. On Chloroform and other Anaesthetics: their action and administration. London: John Churchill; 1858. pp. 1–443.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Edmond I Eger II .

Editor information

Editors and Affiliations

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

Copyright information

© 2014 Edmond I Eger, MD

About this chapter

Cite this chapter

Eger II, E., Saidman, L., Westhorpe, R. (2014). 1844–1846: The Discovery and Demonstration of Anesthesia. In: Eger II, E., Saidman, L., Westhorpe, R. (eds) The Wondrous Story of Anesthesia. Springer, New York, NY. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4614-8441-7_3

Download citation

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4614-8441-7_3

  • Publisher Name: Springer, New York, NY

  • Print ISBN: 978-1-4614-8440-0

  • Online ISBN: 978-1-4614-8441-7

  • eBook Packages: MedicineMedicine (R0)

Publish with us

Policies and ethics