The Discovery And Controversy Over The First


The Discovery And Controversy Over The First Use Of Surgical Anesthesi Essay, Research Paper

Dennis Brindell Fradin wrote in ”We Have Conquered Pain”: The Discovery of Anesthesia, “We take it for granted that we can sleep through operations without feeling any pain. But until about 150 years ago, the operating room was a virtual torture chamber because surgeons had no way to prevent the pain caused by their healing knives.” Fradin is right. Since several analyses of archaic human bones have proven that people have suffered from disease and pain since the beginning of their existence, one can only assume the tremendous pain humans had to endure before the discovery of anesthesia. The four brilliant men who ended mankind’s suffering also had to endure immense anguish after the discovery; their involvement erupted into a maelstrom of controversy, which contributed to early deaths and insanity, even though the discovery of surgical anesthesia has had such a positive effect on humanity.1

Prior to the discovery, surgeons would tie, strap, or hold down their patients to keep them from running off during surgery. Many times, the surgeon would give alcohol or narcotics to patients in order for the patient to better face the indescribable pain. However, those that actually survived the surgery (chances are, they didn’t) swore they would have preferred death instead of the excruciating pain they had to endure.2 Even Dr. John Collins Warren, a senior surgeon before the discovery of anesthesia at the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, agreed that patients would rather die than have surgery. After Dr. Warren finished an amputation in 1844, before the discovery of anesthetics, he told himself, “The knife that heals must first give pain.”3

To have fully conscious, screaming patients during an operation even made surgeons not want to perform surgery. However, the discovery of surgical anesthesia changed the way most, including surgeons, perceived surgery. Although surgical anesthesia was not discovered until the middle of the nineteenth century, there were significant contributions by talented thinkers made more than one hundred years before the discovery.4 The list of those contributors includes Joseph Priestley, who discovered hydrogen in 1766, nitrogen in 1772, and oxygen and nitrous oxide in 1774 and also introduced inhalation as a way to administer medicine5, Humphrey Davy, who proved nitrous oxide was not poisonous6, and Henry Hill Hickman, who made the first successful experiments with nitrous oxide on lower animals7.

After these advances in the early nineteenth century, the most popular experiment at scientific exhibits was for the students to become intoxicated by inhaling ether or nitrous oxide, commonly called laughing gas, in the United States. Such experiments became so popular that students entertained themselves outside of class by holding ether parties. These parties, frequently called “ether frolics,” were common all over the country. It was the ether frolics that eventually led to the realization that ether can cause unconsciousness and, with that, relief of pain.8

In the small village of Jefferson, Georgia, an ether frolic was scheduled in early 1841. This event attracted the attention of Crawford Williamson Long, a young doctor living in a nearby town, who later held ether frolics in his own home as a form of entertainment. Long afterward noted that although guests at his ether parties were terribly bruised from hitting objects while unconscious, they were frequently not felt or seen until several days later. Long decided that being intoxicated with ether might produce the same degree of insensibility during a surgical operation.9

Meanwhile, James Venable, one of Long’s friends who had participated in the ether frolics, wanted Long to remove two tumors on the side of his neck. Venable was fearful of surgery, and on March 30, 1842, Long told Venable his idea to use ether during surgery as a way to dull the excruciating pain of surgery. As an added incentive, Long agreed to perform the operation for only two dollars instead of the usual rate of forty dollars for a tumor removal. That evening, Venable allowed Long to cut one of the tumors from his neck.10 Instead of screams and shouts during the operation, for the first time in history there was silence. After the operation was completed, James Venable awoke disappointed for he thought the operation had yet to begin. Only when Dr. Long held up his tumor did Venable believe that the surgery was complete. To be certain of the effects of ether during surgery, Long performed several other operations with ether, and each was a success.11

Long hardly did anything to announce his discovery. Long’s first use of ether was of importance to no one except to the four or five patients to whom Long administered. Four long years passed, and all the while ether remained unknown and unavailable to the world whose pain it might have eased.12

Laughing gas was not only used as a source of entertainment in the home, but also as a source of income for a few show-businessmen in New England. One such man was Gardner Quincy Colton, an itinerant lecturer with only limited knowledge of medicine. Colton was giving a demonstration of the effects of nitrous oxide gas at the Hartford Courant on December 10, 1844. The young successful dentist Horace Wells attended the event.13 The following is an account of how Gardner Colton remembered the evening:

On the 10thof December, 1844, I gave an exhibition of laughing gas in the city of Hartford, Connecticut. After a brief lecture on the properties and effects of the gas, I invited a dozen or fifteen gentlemen to come upon the stage, who would like to inhale it. Among those who came forward was Dr. Horace Wells, a dentist of Hartford, and a young man by the name of Cooley.

Cooley inhaled the gas, and while under its influence ran against some wooden settees on the stage and bruised his legs badly. On taking his seat next to Dr. Wells, the latter said to him, “You must have hurt yourself.” “No.” Then he began to feel some pain, and was astonished to find his legs bloody; he said he felt no pain till the effects of the gas had passed off.

At the close of the exhibition, Dr. Wells came to me, and said, “Why cannot a man have a tooth extracted under the gas, and not feel it?”

I replied I did not know.

Dr. Wells then said he believed it could be done, and would try it on himself, if I would bring a bag of gas to his office. The next day ? 11th of December, 1844 ? I went to his office with a bag of gas.14

At his office, Wells inhaled the nitrous oxide, and Dr. Riggs, a dentist who practiced with Wells, extracted his tooth without pain. Afterward, Wells learned how to prepare the nitrous oxide from Colton, and he successfully extracted teeth fifteen times without pain!15

To spread the news of his great discovery, Wells traveled to Boston, which was at that time the medical center of the nation. In Boston, Wells sought the aid of his former student, Dr. William Thomas Green Morton. Morton thought Wells’ idea had worth and suggested they discuss it with Dr. Charles Jackson, a respected chemist in Boston. Jackson simply rejected Wells’ idea, saying nitrous oxide was in fact dangerous and it was impossible to have surgery without pain.16

Wells was not discouraged, however. While in Boston, he asked permission from Dr. John Collins Warren, the surgeon at the Massachusetts General Hospital and the dean of the Harvard Medical School, to demonstrate his discovery. After a few days of lectures, Wells attempted to illustrate the effects of nitrous oxide on a patient whose tooth was to be extracted. Unfortunately, the gasbag was withdrawn too soon during the operation, and the patient began to shriek with pain. After the operation, the patient testified he did experience some pain, but “not as much as usually attends the operation,” Wells wrote in a letter addressed to the editor of the Hartford Courant, December 9, 1846. However, the public mocked the demonstration as a complete failure. “Several expressed their opinion that it was a humbug affair,” Wells wrote.17 Wells left Boston humiliated and disgraced, but still believing that surgical operations could be performed painlessly. Many other citizens in Hartford received the benefits of Wells’ discovery and later gave sworn depositions that Wells had extracted teeth for them using nitrous oxide as an anesthetic.18

As time passed, Wells’ heath began to decline. He was struck with a sudden illness and could not recover for months. To help himself recover, Wells retired from dentistry and opened a business with a partner to make and sell the foot-pumped shower bath Wells had invented.19

Dr. William Thomas Greene Morton, not discouraged by Wells’ failure, still believed the use of nitrous oxide could increase business in his own dental practice if he could perform surgery without pain. Morton again returned to Jackson for nitrous oxide, but he did not have any (for he claimed it was still poisonous). Instead Jackson suggested using sulfuric ether. Using the sulfuric ether Jackson had given him, Morton extracted Eben Frost’s tooth. Convinced that surgery could be performed without pain, Morton went to visit Dr. Warren at the Massachusetts General Hospital. At the hospital, Morton told Warren about his painless procedure but did not tell Warren that he had used ether to eliminate the pain. Instead, Morton told Warren he had used his invention “Letheon.” Warren was very interested in Morton’s “invention,” and he allowed him to try his new method on the next available patient.20

Gilbert Abbott, a twenty-year-old man with a vascular neck tumor, was to be Morton’s patient. Warren scheduled the surgery for Friday, October 16, 1846, at the Massachusetts General Hospital21 and sent an invitation to Morton, asking him to perform his new invention to the Harvard Medical Class. After receiving the request, Morton immediately gave plans for constructing his ether inhaler to an instrument maker. On the morning of the operation, Morton rushed to the instrument maker’s shop only to find the instrument unprepared. Frantically, Morton grabbed the inhaler and hurried to the hospital where Dr. Warren and the Harvard Medical Class were waiting.22 Morton applied a tube connected to a glass globe to Abbott’s lips. Four or five minutes passed, and when the patient was unconscious, the operation commenced. During the operation, the patient gave no sign of sensibility, appearing to be sleeping quietly. Before the close of the operation, the patient moved his head, body, and limbs, and muttered words that could not be heard. Fortunately, when Abbott awoke, he proclaimed he had felt no pain, simply feeling a scraping sensation.23

The operation was a complete success! Dr. John Collins Warren had performed the greatest surgery in his history. The Harvard Medical class, which had been skeptical before the operation, was now silent, knowing that they had been present at the greatest surgery ever performed. After realizing what he had just accomplished, Warren wrote:

A new era has opened on the operating surgeon. His visitations on the most delicate parts are performed, not only without the agonizing screams he has been accustomed to hear, but sometimes in a state of perfect insensibility, and, occasionally, even with an expression of pleasure on the part of the patient….

As philanthropists we may well rejoice that we have had an agency, however slight, in conferring upon poor suffering humanity so precious a gift.

Unrestrained and free as God’s own sunshine, it has gone forth to cheer and gladden the earth; it will awaken the gratitude of the present, and all coming generations. The student, who from distant lands or in distant ages, may visit this spot, will view it with increased interest, as he remembers that here was first demonstrated one of the most glorious truths of science.24

Indeed, as Dr. John Collins Warren predicted, students from distant lands and in distant ages made journeys to the historic surgical amphitheater, now called the Ether Dome of the Massachusetts General Hospital.

On the following day, Dr. George Hayward, who was also present on the previous day, performed another operation using ether. This operation was also a great success. On the same day, the people of Massachusetts also first read about the famous operation performed by Warren in the Boston Daily Journal and in the Boston Post.25

Before the famous surgery using Letheon, the Massachusetts General Hospital had only averaged about one operation per week. Patients who had been avoiding surgery suddenly changed their minds. Morton hoped to become extremely wealthy by patenting Letheon, and until he secured the patent, Morton decided to keep the components of Letheon a secret. After his success, Morton could no longer hide the nature of letheon. A “capital,” or extremely serious, surgery to prove that surgery could be performed without pain was about to be taken place. The cardinal rule of medicine stated that discoveries must be shared, and the Massachusetts Medical Society would not allow secret remedies to be performed and forbade any further operations used with Letheon until Morton divulged its contents. Finally, just before the capital surgery was to be taken place, Morton revealed that Letheon was composed simply of sulfuric ether.26

After the capital surgery was completed successfully, people immediately hailed Morton as the greatest medical hero the country had ever produced. Dr. Warren lauded the discovery as “the most valuable discovery ever made, because it frees suffering humanity from pain.”27 At once, people searched for a better named than Letheon. From archaic texts, Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes learned that the Greek physician Dioscorides had coined the word anesthesia, meaning “without feeling” nearly eighteen hundred years earlier.28

From this point on, Morton was to plunge into a dizzy maelstrom of controversy, charges and counter-charges, even to lobbying in Congress for national gratitude in the form of financial grants. Warren was wrong when he called this gift as “unrestrained and free as God’s own sunshine.” 29

Immediately after applying for a patent, Morton searched for agents to sell his inhaler. Thinking of his old partner and former teacher, Morton sent a letter to Wells, stating that he had already patented his inhaler and needed his help in promoting it in other states.30 Upon arriving to Boston, Wells watched Morton administer Letheon to other patients and perform surgery successfully. Despite Morton’s success, Wells refused to become one of his agents. He was growing jealous of his former student. After all, if Wells would have administered nitrous oxide to his patient for just a few moments longer, he would be famous. Wells felt he was not receiving his fair share of the credit. In December of 1846 Wells began campaigning for himself. Beginning with writing a letter in the Hartford Courant, Wells asked for the public to decide who the discoverer was. The day after his letter appeared, Wells wrote a letter to Morton, claiming that his accomplishments were not anything more than what he had done at least eighteen months prior to Morton’s public demonstration at the Massachusetts General Hospital.31

Within a few days of receiving Wells’ letter, Jackson, who had learned that Morton was applying for a patent from Commissioner Eddy, claimed that he deserved a share of the patent for his advice. Jackson was so convincing that even Eddy began to take his side. Jackson later visited Morton, demanding five hundred dollars as a fee for his advice. Morton agreed to pay the money, but he refused to acknowledge that Jackson’s information had been of help to him, which Jackson had hoped. As the world applauded Morton for his discovery, Jackson’s feelings turned to bitter hatred. He no longer agreed to the five hundred-dollar fee; instead, Jackson thought he deserved ten percent of the profits Morton would receive.32

Eddy advised Morton, according to a letter Eddy wrote later to the surgeons of the Massachusetts General Hospital, to give in to Jackson’s demands. Morton only wanted to appease Jackson, and he followed Eddy’s advice, while still maintaining that Jackson did not really deserve any credit or money. On November 12, 1846, Patent Number 4848 for ether anesthesia was granted jointly to Dr. William Thomas Green Morton and Charles Jackson.33

Still, Jackson was not satisfied. He realized he no longer wanted money. Jackson thought he deserved full credit for the discovery. Realizing he had two advantages over Morton and Wells, who at this time was just beginning to lay claims to the discovery, the first being that he had powerful friends in Europe, and the second being that Morton and Wells had both abandoned dentistry because they needed money, Jackson developed a plan and put it into action.34

Using his powerful influences, Jackson convinced Edward Everett, the president of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, to allow him to give a lecture to the academy explaining the controversy with Morton. Jackson’s next step was to publish an article in the Boston Daily Advertiser about the ether discovery and the speech he was going to give to the academy. Jackson wanted to make it seem as though the American Academy of Arts and Sciences had already named Jackson as the discoverer of anesthesia. There was one problem, however. The newspaper article was set to print one day before the actual speech was to be given.35

When the daily newspaper came out on Monday, March 1, Jackson rushed hundreds of copies onto the mail boat setting sail for Europe. Not only was Morton upset at what Jackson had done but also Boston’s leading scientists were outraged. Jackson was forbidden to give a speech to the academy, and several people, including Dr. John Collins Warren, sent letters to Europe claiming that Jackson was a fraud.36 Still, the damage was done, and most of those who read the article in Europe believed Jackson should be hailed as the discoverer. To counteract Jackson’s newspaper article, Morton wrote a pamphlet titled Memoir on Sulfuric Ether. This pamphlet claimed Morton was the true discoverer because he had “risked reputation, and sacrificed time and money.” The memoir ended with the Morton’s words, “I believe I am the only person in the world to whom this discovery has, so far, been a pecuniary loss.”37

Morton actually was losing money from his discovery. After his successful demonstration at the Massachusetts General Hospital, Morton immediately began to manufacture his inhaler. However, his inhaler used such common items as a jar and a glass tube that virtually anyone could build one. During the Mexican war, Morton offered to sell his inhalers to the United States Army for discounted prices. The army did not buy the inhalers; instead, they copied Morton’s inhalers without paying Morton any money. Imitating the government’s actions, the surgeons and dentists refused to pay Morton compensation for his invention.38

After realizing that Morton was falling so far into debt, Jackson did his best to ruin the doctor. He schemed to have Morton’s possessions taken because he had taken out so many loans to make his inhalers. Jackson even destroyed Morton’s dentistry business. Jackson made false claims that Morton demanded immediate payments from his patients, which at that time was a major offense. After losing more and more patients to Jackson’s schemes, it was apparent that Morton had very slim chances of escaping his debt.39

As Morton’s problems grew, Horace Wells’ problems seemed to disappear. During his trip to Paris to buy paintings, Wells was convinced by Dr. Christopher Brewster, an American dentist living in Paris, to speak before scientific societies on the discovery of anesthesia. After a few speeches, Wells moved into the spotlight in Paris. The French adored his kind, gentle nature and his honesty in admitting that the catastrophe at the Massachusetts General Hospital was his fault. The French scientists informed Wells that he must first write up his claims in order to be given full recognition as the discoverer of anesthesia. Inspired by new dreams, Wells immediately began writing. 40

While still in Paris, Wells published Galignani’s Messenger, a letter that established his claims. After publishing his letter, Wells left for the Hartford to write a full statement of his claims. On March 30, 1847, Wells published History of the Discovery of the Application of Nitrous Oxide Gas, Ether, and Other Vapors, to Surgical Operations. Copies of his claims and testimonies from his patients were spread all over Europe.41

Wells realized he had another problem besides proving he was the first to discover anesthesia. Many people doubted that nitrous oxide was strong enough for a capital operation. Thus, many Europeans claimed that although Wells might have been the first, he still should not be declared the discoverer of anesthesia. This prompted Wells to begin practicing dentistry again. He began to perform radical experiments on himself and on his own patients. It is during this time when Wells’ experimentation surpassed scientific measures. He began to crave anesthetics for his own use to take away the pressure.42

The last few days of Wells’ life ended with a whirlwind of great success and complete humiliation. First, Wells successfully administered nitrous oxide to a man before a leg amputation and to a woman who was having a tumor removed on her shoulder. Wells believed he was proving that nitrous oxide could be used in capital operations.43

Figuring that the best place to achieve fame was New York City, Wells moved his office there and decided that he would later send for his wife and child when he was completely settled. However, Wells never accomplished his goal of fame in New York. Instead, he was struck with bitter loneliness.44 To ease his pain, Wells began inhaling ether and chloroform more frequently. One night, Wells went out on the streets of New York, carrying a bottle of chloroform and a bottle of acid. Spotting two prostitutes he knew, Wells sprinkled the acid on their clothing, thinking that earlier one of the prostitutes had sprinkled acid on a derelict Wells had befriended on one of his walks. The acid did not injure the women, but Wells was arrested and locked in the Tombs Prison, where he continued to inhale chloroform and ether. On January 22, 1848, Wells inhaled just enough of chloroform to make himself partly insensible, and then ended his life, tragically, by cutting himself with a razor across his left femoral artery and bleeding to death. Just a few short days after his death, a letter came from Dr. Brewster, stating that the Paris Medical Society had just voted that Horace Wells was due “all the honor of having successfully discovered and successfully applied the use of vapors or gases whereby surgical operations could be performed without pain,” and that Wells was elected an honorary member of the Society. Brewster went on to write that the “first person, who first discovered and performed surgical operations without pain was Horace Wells, and to the last day of time must suffering humanity bless his name.” 45

Meanwhile, many doctors were petitioning the government to investigate and then reward the discoverer of anesthesia $100,000. This prompted Morton to abandon dentistry, thinking if he could get the reward, then he could pay all of his debts. Somehow, Jackson found another way to attempt to destroy Morton’s plans. After reading Dr. Crawford Long’s article in the December 1849 issue of Southern Medical and Surgical Journal, Jackson wrote to the Georgia senator William Dawson. He persuaded Dawson that Long deserved recognition for his discovery, and Dawson vowed to conduct an investigation.46

Jackson visited Long in Georgia, convincing Long that he was the first to use an anesthetic. Jackson tried to make a deal with Long, claiming that if Jackson would help Long to become recognized as the discoverer of anesthesia, then Long and Jackson would split the $100,000 from Congress. Long refused to make a deal with Jackson, simply because he was not the kind of man to exclude Morton and Wells. So Jackson decided to give Long another proposal: he would unselfishly help Long present his claims before Congress.47

Hatred for Morton was not reason enough for Jackson to support Long. Still thinking he had a chance for going down in history as the discoverer of anesthesia, Jackson thought he could use Long to knock Morton and Wells out of the contention, and then he could later defeat Long. Fearing that Congress might side with Long, Jackson invented a story claiming that he had administered ether one month before Long had.

By 1855, a type of civil war was emerging over the anesthesia controversy. Usually, Southerners sided with Long, and Northerners sided with Wells, Morton, or Jackson, but there were also several other subdivisions. For instance, people from Massachusetts usually sided with Morton or Jackson, Vermont and Connecticut people favored Wells, dentists preferred Wells or Morton, doctors rooted for Long or Jackson (except in New England, where many were for Morton), pharmacists supported Long, and geologists and chemists advocated Jackson. The members of Congress positively favored Morton.48 Yet, time and again, Congress met without granting him any reward, and finally the pressures reached Morton. His health began to fail, and his debts rose increasingly as he spent most of his time lobbying in Congress.49

Several times Morton thought lobbying in Congress was finally going to pay off. In the spring of 1855, Morton came so agonizingly close to winning the $100,000 award. William Henry Witte, a United States representative who had befriended Morton, spoke to President Franklin Pierce on his behalf. Two days later, the president had a petition from the Massachusetts General Hospital recommending that Morton receive the award. Also, the president had the paper that would grant Morton the $100,000 lying on his desk. Pierce was just about to sign the document when he suddenly froze, unsure of whether Morton’s patent included all anesthetic substances. The president promised an answer the next day.50

Fourteen months passed, and finally the president agreed to meet with Morton to discuss the patent. Pierce wanted Morton to sue the government for using his patented ether technique without compensating him.51 Pierce explained it would just be a charade, and they would all act it out. Morton selected the Marine Hospital near Boston and Dr. Charles Davis to sue. Morton’s lawyers visited Dr. Davis to assure him that the lawsuit was a sham arranged by the president in order to reward Morton the $100,000. Pierce’s plan failed because the judge claimed that “the beneficent character of the discovery cannot change the legal principles on which the law of patents is founded. A discovery is not patentable.”52

This was a tremendous blow to Morton for two reasons. First, many of those who had previously supported Morton turned their backs on him because many thought he was being selfish. For example, the American Medical Association, which had originally embraced Morton, issued a censure, stating that they would “…enter their protest against any appropriation to Dr. Morton, on the ground of his unworthy conduct…”53 Second, over the years he had accumulated $50,000 in debt and could no longer buy food for his family. Morton began gathering wood in the forest and selling it in a handcart in the streets. Morton was forced to postpone lobbying in Congress because in 1861 there was a far more serious matter to contend with ? the Civil War.54

During the Civil War, Long and Morton offered their services by administering anesthesia to wounded soldiers. However, Charles Jackson’s life was little disturbed by the Civil War. He spent the four years devoting more and more time to his anesthesia claims. Jackson published A Manual of Etherization, a book in which he credited the discovery solely to himself. He published most of his articles during the war while Morton and Long were busy on the battlefield saving soldiers.55

After the Civil War, the $100,000 reward was withdrawn, and Morton made it his sole purpose to go down in history as the discoverer of anesthesia.56 He traveled to New York City, although his doctor and wife advised against it because of his poor health, to present his claims one more time. While he was in New York City, Morton suffered from a stroke and died July 15, 1868. He was buried at Mount Auburn Cemetery, where some doctors erected a monument over his grave.57

After Morton’s death, Jackson never wrote another word about anesthesia. As his writing tapered off, alcoholism became much more of a problem for Jackson. One night, five years after Morton’s death, Jackson, heavily intoxicated, stumbled into Mount Auburn Cemetery and found his way over to William Morton’s grave. Instantly, he became insane. Sounds of his yells attracted the attention of visitors. Dr. Charles Jackson was taken to McLean Asylum where he spent the rest of his life. Jackson died on August 28, 1880, and was buried in Mount Auburn Cemetery, not far from Morton’s grave.58

Crawford Long suffered from a stroke and died June 16, 1878, after he had just delivered a baby. Long’s life was filled with love and joy, as much of his life revolved around his family and the welfare of others. Long, although not a world-famous figure or well known among the general public, was beloved in his hometown of Athens. His saying, “My profession is to me a ministry from God,” was inscribed on his gravestone.59

The passing of Charles Jackson, the last of the four contestants to die, ended Jackson’s claims of being the discoverer of anesthesia. Without Jackson to promote himself, his role in the discovery has been downplayed. The supporters of the other three men have continued to strive for the recognition of being the discoverer.60

If the definition of discoverer means the first person to use a new process, then Crawford Williamson Long deserves the credit. Horace Wells was unquestionably the first to make widespread use of anesthesia, and he paved the way for the Boston doctors to be more receptive toward the next demonstrator who came along. That man, William Morton, also deserves credit because he made anesthesia an accepted part of medicine. As for Charles Jackson, he destroyed his credibility by claiming the discovery exclusively, yet it is undeniable that his suggestion played a key role in Morton’s success at the Massachusetts General Hospital.61 Even today no one is singled out as the discoverer of anesthesia. Many choose the side of Oliver Wendell Holmes, who coined the word anesthesia. Inscribed on the Ether Monument, which honored the discovery, in Boston’s Public Garden are Holmes’ words: “To e(i)ther.”62

Nonetheless, the impact of the discovery of anesthesia has made a profound impact on humanity. After the discovery, surgeons, who were once frightened and reluctant to perform surgery because of the patient’s agonizing pain, wanted to operate. Those who were opposed to having surgery because of the immense pain changed their minds because of anesthesia. In the United States alone, each year more than twenty million surgical procedures are performed that require anesthesia. Without anesthesia, most surgeries could not be performed because anesthesia allows the patient to become insensible to pain. It also gives the doctor more time to perform the operation, which is one reason why surgeons can now operate on the brain, remove tumors from deep within the body, and even perform transplants. Over time, the discovery of anesthesia has increased the average life span of humans. No matter whom the discoverer was, the ultimate tribute to Long, Wells, Morton, and Jackson are all of those who have enjoyed the blessings of anesthesia, for they are their living memorials.63

1Dennis Brindell Fradin. “We Have Conquered Pain”: The Discovery of Anesthesia (New York: Margaret K. McElderry Books, 1996), 2.

2L. J. Ludovici. The Discovery of Anaesthesisa (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Company, 1961), 9.

3 Dr. John Collins Warren quoted in Irwin Shapiro. The Gift of Magic Sleep: Early Experiments in Anesthesia (New York: Coward, McCann, & Geoghegan, Inc., 1979), 9.

4 Ibid., 8.

5James Tayloe Gwathmey, M.D. Anesthesia (New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1914) 4.

6 Shapiro, Gift, 15.

7 Frederick Prescott. Control of Pain (Great Britain: Thomas Y. Crowell Company, 1964), 22.

8Judith C. Galas. Anesthetics: Surgery Without Pain (San Diego: Lucent Books, Inc., 1992), 23.

9 Prescott, Control, 22.

10Fradin, Conquered Pain, 24, 25.

11Victor Robinson, M.D. Victory Over Pain: A History of Anesthesia (New York: Henry Schuman, Inc., 1946), 87.

12Fradin, Conquered Pain, 26.

13Sherwin B. Nuland, M.D., F.A.C.S. The Origins of Anesthesia (Birmingham, Alabama: The Classics of Medicine Library, 1983), 52, 53.

14Gardner Quincy Colton quoted in Robinson, Victory, 95.

15Nuland, Origins, 54.

16Galas, Anesthetics: SWP, 27.

17Wells quoted from a letter addressed to the editor of the Hartford Courant in Nuland 55, 56.

18Robinson, Victory, 104.

19Fradin, Conquered Pain, 46.

20Galas, Anesthetics: SWP, 28, 29.

21Robert T. Davis. “Reminiscences of 1846” in Massachusetts General Hospital. Semi-Centennial of Anesthesia (Cambridge, Massachusetts: H. O. Houghton & Co., 1897), 20.

22Galas, Anesthetics: SWP, 29, 30.

23Davis, “Reminiscences” in Massachusetts, Semi-Centennial, 20.

24Dr. John Collins Warren quoted in Robinson, Victory, 128. Nuland, Origins, 70.

25Fradin, Conquered Pain, 69-71.

26Ibid., 74,75.

27Dr. John Collins Warren quoted in Ibid.

28Galas, Anesthetics: SWP, 31.

29Robinson, Victory, 129.

30Ludovici, Discovery, 138.

31Wells quoted in Fradin, Conquered Pain, 76, 77.

32Ibid., 84.

33Nuland, Origins, 73.

34Ludovici, Discovery, 49-54.

35Fradin, Conquered Pain, 90.

36Nuland 91.

37Morton quoted from Littell’s Living Age in Nuland, Origins, np.

38Fradin, Conquered Pain, 91-93.

39Ibid., 94.

40Nuland, Origins, 89.

41Robinson, Victory, 130, 131.

42Fradin, Conquered Pain, 94, 95.


44Ludovici, Discovery, 192-194.

45 Dr. Brewster quoted in Nuland, Origins, 60, 61.

46Fradin, Conquered Pain, 105, 107.

47Ibid., 109.

48Ibid., 112, 113.

49Robinson, Victory, 136.

50Ludovici, Discovery, 206-210.

51Ibid., 199, 200.

52Judge quoted in Fradin, Conquered Pain, 117.

53 Dr. Henry D. Noyes, president of the American Medical Association, quoted in Nuland, Origins, 99.

54Fradin, Conquered Pain, 116, 117.

55Ibid., 118-121.

56Galas, Anesthetics: SWP, 32.

57Robinson, Victory, 132, 133.

58Ludovici, Discovery, 220.

59 Dr. Crawford Long quoted in Fradin, Conquered Pain, 126-130.

60Ludovici, Discovery, 220.

61Fradin, Conquered, 131-138.

62Oliver Wendell Holmes quoted in Galas, Anesthetics: SWP, 32.

63Fradin, Conquered, 143, 144.


Primary Sources

Davis, Robert T. “Reminiscences of 1846” in Massachusetts General Hospital. Semi-Centennial of Anesthesia. Cambridge, Massachusetts: H. O. Houghton & Co., 1897.

This is a primary account of the first public demonstration of surgical anesthesia. I used it for information on the procedures during the surgery. It was extremely useful.

Morton, William Thomas Green. “Memoir on Sulfuric Ether” in Nuland, Sherwin B, M.D., F.A.C.S. The Origins of Anesthesia. Birmingham, Alabama: The Classics of Medicine Library, 1983.

This document is Morton’s personal account on the discovery of anesthesia. I used it for the controversy between Morton and Jackson. It was very useful.

Long, Crawford W. “An account of the first use of Sulphuric Ether by Inhalation as an Anesthetic in Surgical Operations” in Nuland, Sherwin B, M.D., F.A.C.S. The Origins of Anesthesia. Birmingham, Alabama: The Classics of Medicine Library, 1983.

This is Long’s personal account of his operation on James Venable. I used it for Long’s first operation using ether. It was extremely helpful.

Secondary Sources

Fradin, Dennis Brindell. “We Have Conquered Pain”: The Discovery of Anesthesia. New York: Margaret K. McElderry Books, 1996.

This book is a summary of the controversy. I used this book to gather information about the four contestants. It was very useful.

Galas, Judith C. Anesthetics: Surgery Without Pain. San Diego: Lucent Books, Inc., 1992.

This book has a summary of the developments of anesthesia to its present-day use. I used this book mostly for information on Dr. Crawford W. Long. It was pretty useful.

Gwathmey, James Tayloe, M.D. Anesthesia. New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1914.

This book covers anesthesia from ancient history to its present-day use. I used this book mostly for information before the controversy. It was not extremely useful, but it did help in learning the developments of anesthesia.

Ludovici, L. J. The Discovery of Anesthesia. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Company, 1961.

This book is an account of the discovery of anesthesia, claiming Morton as the discoverer. I used this book to learn information about the relationship between Dr. William Morton and Dr. Charles Jackson because it went into more detail than the other sources. It was extremely useful.

Nuland, Sherwin B, M.D., F.A.C.S. The Origins of Anesthesia. Birmingham, Alabama: The Classics of Medicine Library, 1983.

This book has a detailed account of the discovery and controversy over anesthesia. I used this book mostly for its primary documents. It was extremely useful.

Prescott, Frederick. Control of Pain. Great Britain: Thomas Y. Crowell Company, 1964.

This book covers different types of anesthetics. I used it for information before the discovery and the history of the discovery. It was useful.

Robinson, Victor, M.D. Victory Over Pain: A History of Anesthesia. New York: Henry Schuman, Inc., 1946.

This book is an account of the discovery of anesthesia. I used this book mostly for information on the controversy between the four contestants. It was also extremely useful.

Shapiro, Irwin. The Gift of Magic Sleep: Early Experiments in Anesthesia. New York: Coward, McCann, & Geoghegan, Inc., 1979.

This book covers the discovery of anesthesia. I used it mostly for contributions that led to the discovery. It was useful.

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