The Half Century Before Ether Day

  • Edmond I EgerII
  • Rod N. Westhorpe
  • Lawrence J. Saidman


The gases and vapors later known as anesthetics had been synthesized or isolated before (ether, nitrous oxide and carbon dioxide) or would be synthesized in (chloroform) the period from 1798 through 1846. They served various purposes. In 1798–1800, Humphry Davy used nitrous oxide for recreation and research, noting its capacity to diminish or even abolish pain. He suggested its use for surgery, but no one noticed. In 1823, Hickman used carbon dioxide to cause what he called “suspended animation”, a state that permitted apparently painless surgery in animals. But no one noticed. In the 1840s, Clarke, Long, and Smilie each administered ether in amounts sufficient to permit surgery to be undertaken without pain in patients. But they thought too little of what they had done, or didn’t know what they had done, to request public credit for their accomplishment. And no one noticed.


Surgery before anesthesia Anesthesia history Ancient use of anesthesia Anesthesia in the 1800s Nineteenth century anesthesia Ether day 


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Copyright information

© Edmond I Eger, MD 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Edmond I EgerII
    • 1
  • Rod N. Westhorpe
    • 2
  • Lawrence J. Saidman
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Anesthesia and Perioperative CareUniversity of CaliforniaSan FranciscoUSA
  2. 2.MelbourneAustralia
  3. 3.Departments of AnesthesiaStanford UniversityStanfordUSA

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