|William T. G. Morton
the first to publicly demonstrate the
use of sulfuric ether as an anesthetic
William Thomas Green Morton was
born in Charlton, Massachusetts, on August 9,
1819. He was educated at Northfield and Leicester
Academies. At the age of seventeen he went to
work as a clerk and salesman in various business
houses in Boston, but found the work
unsatisfying. In 1840 he enrolled in the College
of Dental Surgery in Baltimore, and began
practicing dentistry in Hartford, Connecticut, in
1842. He returned to Hartford in 1843. In 1844 he
began studying medicine with Dr. Charles T.
Jackson, and later continued his studies at the
Harvard Medical School. He did not complete his
degree studies at Harvard, but in 1852 was
awarded a Masters honoris causa by the
Washington University of Medicine (now the
College of Physicians and Surgeons of Baltimore).
While studying with Dr.
Jackson, the doctor demonstrated before his
chemistry classes that inhalation of sulfuric
ether causes loss of consciousness. Morton was
especially interested in the manufacture of
artificial teeth and was, therefore, concerned
with lessening the pain of extraction of roots.
He tried inhalation of sulfuric ether on himself,
and during the summer of 1846 he anaesthetized
goldfish, a hen, and a dog. All four
"patients" recovered and Morton was
ready to use ether on other patients.
On September 30, 1846, Morton
used sulfuric ether to remove an ulcerated tooth
from a patient who reportedly experienced no pain
during the procedure. After an account of the
procedure was written up in the Boston Daily
Journal, Henry J. Bigelow, a Boston surgeon
affiliated with Massachusetts General Hospital,
and John Collins Warren, the surgical chief of
the hospital, invited Morton to demonstrate his
procedure there. On October 16, 1846, Morton used
sulfuric ether to successfully anesthetize a
patient, from whom Dr. Warren removed a neck
tumor. The following day he used ether to
anesthetize a patient for Dr. George Hayward.
After several weeks of further trials, Dr.
Bigelow announced Morton's discovery in the Boston
Medical and Surgical Journal, on November
On October 27, 1846, Morton and
Jackson applied for a patent, which was issued on
In 1847, a petition to the U.S.
Congress by the physicians and surgeons of Boston
requested compensation to the discoverer of the
anesthetic qualities of ether. Since this
petition resulted in no action, Morton himself
petitioned Congress. Two bills appropriating
$200,000 for the discovery of practical
anesthesia were introduced into three sessions of
Congress, but none passed. Morton spent the last
twenty years of his life trying to get
compensation for his discovery.
Among the honors Morton did
the Montyon Prize of 5,000 French francs, awarded
jointly to him and Dr. Jackson by the French
Academy of Sciences
Morton refused the award, saying that the
discovery was his and his alone, and that he
should not have to share the money.
a testimonial of $1,000 from the trustees of the
Massachusetts General Hospital
the Order of Wasa of Sweden and Norway
the Order of St. Vladimir of Russia
Dr. William T.G. Morton died of
apoplexy on July 15, 1869.
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