Nitrous oxide, or laughing gas, too, had already been publicly demonstrated in circus sideshows before the demonstration at Mass General took place. On December 10, 1844, a travelling lecturer and former medical student named Gardner Quincy Colton, who had already earned $535 with his nitrous oxide demonstrations, gave a show in Hartford, CT during which a volunteer from the audience felt no pain from an injured leg. Dentist Horace Wells was there. His interest in developing an anesthetic technique for dental practice inspired him to procure a supply of the gas from Colton. He began to administer nitrous oxide to his dental patients.
I think it's interesting that William T.G. Morton had been Wells' student and then business partner in the early 1840's, when Wells first set up his practice in Hartford. They went their separate ways after only a couple of years in dental practice together. In 1847, after Morton's success and notoriety as a result of Ether Day, Wells ended up working for his former student: he went to Paris to sell anesthesia for Morton, who tried for years to get royalties for his "discovery" of ether anesthesia. Wells became addicted to chloroform while in Europe, in a state of delirium assaulted two women with sulfuric acid, got committed to Tombs Prison in New York, and committed suicide by slitting an artery in his leg with a razor. He was only 33.
Speaking of academe, I spent Ether Day enjoying the beautiful fall weather in Harvard Square on a rare day off with my husband. We had lunch at Finale, which is known for its terrific desserts but deserves accolades for its delectable gourmet sandwiches too.
"What did we used to talk about when we hung out here when we were younger?" I asked him as we ate our sandwiches. The places around Harvard Square were our old stomping grounds.
Chomp, chomp, sip. "I dunno. Why?"
"Well, what on earth could have brought us together at that age?" I wondered aloud. He and I have nothing in common, with the exception of some core spiritual values / ways of looking at the world. Nothing at all.
"Pheromones," he replied. Munch, sip, munch, munch. "Good sandwich."
I think our being totally different, like two puzzle pieces with completely different shapes, helps our marriage. That, and we find each other funny.
"Do you want my raspberry garnish?" The berries on my dessert were a little tart, but the crème brûlée was rhapsodic.
"Sure. Want my chocolate triangle?" He said, handing over the little wedge of dark chocolate from beside a delicious frangipane tart.
Ah, a marriage that works. Gotta love it.
Here's an Ether Timeline (by no means complete) for any who might be interested. I found a lot of the info here at bookrags and also compiled by Thomas J. Evans, CRNA, at the Anesthesia Nursing and Medicine Website:
1275: Spanish chemist Raymond Lullius discovers ether, calling it "sweet vitriol."
1540: Valerius Cordus describes the synthesis of ether. Paracelsus discovers it has hypnotic properties.
1730: Frobenius changes the name of sweet vitriol to ether.
1788: Matthew Turner writes An Account of the Extraordinary Medicinal Fluid, called Aether, now available for perusal through Project Gutenberg.
1794: Pearson and Beddoes use ether to treat scurvy, bladder stones, & catarrhal fever.
1800: Sir Humphry Davy described the effects of nitrous oxide.
1804: Japanese physician Hanaoka Seishu used a bunch of scary plants to produce general anesthesia in a patient in need of surgery for breast cancer.
1805: American docs use ether to treat pulmonary inflammation.
1818: Faraday, Davy's student, notes that like nitrous oxide, ether can produce analgesia and euphoria when inhaled.
1820's: "Ether frolics" became a popular way for U.S. chemistry students to amuse themselves.
1842 - January: probably inspired by a frolic, chemistry student William Clark of Rochester, NY administered ether to a Miss Hobbie while dentist Elijah Pope pulled her tooth.
1842 - March: Crawford Long uses ether to remove a sebaceous cyst.
1844: Gardner Colton demostrates nitrous oxide in Hartford. Horace Wells starts to use nitrous oxide in his dental practice.
1846: Ex-physician Charles T. Jackson suggests that Morton use ether for dental extractions. Morton does so and performs painless tooth extraction on Eben Frost in September. Ether Day in October.
1848: Death of a salesman: Wells commits suicide.
1850's and 60's: Big fight between Morton and Jackson as to who "discovered" ether anesthesia. Long and Wells also with claims, though Long never tried to patent his use of ether for personal profit.
1868: Morton dies in poverty, from a stroke.
1873: Jackson goes insane, dies in 1880.
1944: Gregory Peck's character anesthetizes a boy with some drops in the film Keys of the Kingdom.
1952: Bugs Bunny episode "Water Water Every Hare" features a slow-motion chase between a mad scientist and Bugs who are in a semi-anesthetized stupor due to a broken ether bottle.