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Half-length portrait of a man holding a small book in his right hand. He is wearing a black jacket and a white shirt.
Joseph Priestley ca. 1763

This Month in Anesthesia History: February

1723 February 25: Christopher Wren died in London. Around 1660 the English architect and astronomer began to experiment with the transfusion of blood between animals and intravenous injections into animals. An account of his work was published in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London in 1665.  [see Bergman NA. Early intravenous anesthesia: an eyewitness account. Anesthesiology 72:185-186, 1990] Recent biographies of Wren include Lisa Jardine's On a Grander Scale: The Outstanding Life of Christopher Wren and Adrian Tinniswood's His Invention So Fertile: A Life of Christopher Wren

1804 February 6: Joseph Priestley died in Northumberland, Pennsylvania. Among many other achievements, this English Unitarian minister and scientist isolated nitrous oxide. In 1774 Priestley wrote about his research on gases, "I cannot help flattering myself that, in time, very great medicinal use will be made of the application of these different kinds of airs..." [Priestley J. Experiments and Observations on Different Kinds of Airs. 6 vols. 1:228, 1774] Priestley was born on March 24, 1733, near Leeds, England. For many years he was a member of the Lunar Society, a loose organization made up of scientists and industrialists such as James Watt and Josiah Wedgewood. Many of these men later supported the research by Dr. Thomas Beddoes and Humphry Davy on nitrous oxide and other gases. Priestley was a supporter of the American Revolution and considered by many a heretic; on July 14, 1791, his home in Birmingham was burned by a pro-Royalist mob. His laboratory, large library and unpublished manuscripts were destroyed. In April, 1794, Priestley and his wife sailed to America. You can learn more about him at http://www.historyguide.org/intellect/priestley.html 

1807 February 27: American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was born in Portland, Maine. On April 7, 1847, physician/dentist Nathan Cooley Keep administered the first obstetric anesthetic in the United States in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Dr. Keep was a prominent physician of the Boston area and the first Dean of Dentistry at Harvard. The patient was Frances Appleton Longfellow, second wife of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. In his journal entry for April 1, the famed poet and scholar had noted, "Went to town the first time for several weeks and had a conversation with Dr. Keep about the sulphuric ether and its use." Under ether anesthesia, Fanny did not lose consciousness but felt no pain during the birth of her child. She later wrote about her experience, "I am very sorry you all thought me so rash and naughty in trying the ether. Henry's faith gave me courage...I feel proud to be the pioneer to lessen suffering for poor, weak womankind. This is certainly the greatest blessing of this age and I am glad to have lived at the time of its coming and in the country which gives it to the world..." [See Clark RB. Fanny Longfellow and Nathan Keep. ASA Newsletter 61(9), September 1997]

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, his wife Frances Appleton Longfellow, with sons Charles and Ernest. Circa 1849. From the collection at the Longfellow National Historic Site, Cambridge, MA. <br><i>Copyright Easter National Park and Monument Association</i>
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, his wife Frances Appleton Longfellow, with sons Charles and Ernest. Circa 1849. From the collection at the Longfellow National Historic Site, Cambridge, MA.
Copyright Easter National Park and Monument Association
 

                                    

1814 February 7: Gardner Quincy Colton was born in Georgia, Vermont. Colton introduced nitrous oxide to Horace Wells, among other achievements.

1824 February 21: Englishman Henry Hill Hickman wrote a letter to T.A. Knight describing his experiments with painless surgery on animals using carbon dioxide as an anesthetic.

1829 February 15: Silas Weir Mitchell was born. This American surgeon, neurologist, novelist and poet explored the relationship between pain and the weather and eye strain to headaches. Mitchell died on January 4, 1914.

1836 February 25: A patent was granted to Samuel Colt for his revolving pistol. In the 1830s Colt, calling himself "Professor Coult" or "Doctor Coult" of "Calcutta, London and New York", toured the eastern United States giving demonstrations of nitrous oxide inhalation to raise money to put his revolver prototype into production. In 1836 he patented a revolving-breech pistol and founded the Patent Arms Company in Paterson, New Jersey. The company failed in 1842, but an order for 1,000 revolvers by the U.S. government five years later during the Mexican War allowed Colt to restart his business. Colt was born in Hartford, Connecticut, on July 10, 1814 and died on January 10, 1862. The text of an advertisement for Colt's nitrous oxide demonstration in Portland, Maine, on October 13, 1832, can be found in Smith, Under the Influence: A History of Nitrous Oxide and Oxygen Anaesthesia [pp 37-38].

1848 February 1: The Mexican-American War ended with the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. The first major battle of the U.S. war with Mexico was fought at Palo Alto, Texas, on May 8, 1846. Ether anesthesia was first used in a military conflict in this war, sometime in the spring of 1847 under the direction of American surgeons Edward H. Barton and John B. Porter. [See Aldrete JA, Marron GM, Wright AJ. The first administration of anesthesia in military surgery: on occasion of the Mexican-American War. Anesthesiology 61:585-588, 1984] The Library of Congress offers an excellent list of resources on this conflict at http://www.loc.gov/rr/program/bib/mexicanwar/

1873 February 1: First documented death from nitrous oxide inhalation in Great Britain was reported in this issue of Lancet.

1874 February 16: Pierre-Cyprien Ore [1828-1891] reported to the French Academy of Sciences a case in which he administered the first intravenous general anesthesia in humans.  “Ore was very enthusiastic about intravenous anesthesia with chloral hydrate, and believed it to be superior to inhalation anesthesia with ether or chloroform.” [Keys, The History of Surgical Anesthesia, p. 57] Two years earlier he had published a preliminary report on the technique. In 1875 he published the first monograph on the technique, Etudes Cliniques sur L’Anesthesie Chirurgicale par La Methode des Injections de Chloral dans Les Veines. Acceptance of the method was delayed by slow recovery and high mortality.

1878 February 10: Claude Bernard, French physiologist, died. Bernard's classic work, Lectures on Anesthetics and on Asphyxia [1875], is available from the Wood Library-Museum of Anesthesiology in a fine translation by B. Raymond Fink, MD, published in 1989.

1884 February 26: Scottish physician Alexander Wood died. Wood introduced the hypodermic syringe for drug administration.

1908 February 22: A.D. Waller described his chloroform balance at a meeting of the Physiological Society in London. This apparatus was the first to give a continuous and almost instantaneous reading of the concentration of vapor received by the patient.

1909 February 20: Congress passed the first U.S. law prohibiting the manufacture and sale of opium. Opium had been used for centuries to relieve pain, but by 1900 an estimated 200,000 people in the U.S. were addicted to opium and its derivatives such as laudanum, paregoric and morphine.

1936 February 13: American Society of Anesthetists was founded. In a letter from Paul Wood to John Lundy, dated February 14, Wood noted, "I was reminded at the meeting last night which approved the change in title from New York to American Society of Anesthetists..." This letter is in the Collected Papers of John Lundy, Mayo Foundation Archive in Rochester, Minnesota. In a few years another name change would create the current name. The ASA can trace it’s history back to the Long Island Society of Anesthetists founded in the very early 20th century. A history of the ASA is Bacon DR, McGoldrick KE, Lema MJ, eds. The American Society of Anesthesiologists: A Century of Challenges and Progress [Wood Library-Museum, 2005].

1938 February: The American Board of Anesthesiology became affiliated with the American Board of Surgery.

1941 February 16: The American Board of Anesthesiology achieved independent status.

1943 February 13: Sir Robert Macintosh published as article in Lancet about the laryngoscope blade that now bears his name.[Mactintosh RR. A new laryngoscope. Lancet 1:205, February 13, 1943]

1969 February 2: British actor Boris Karloff died at age 81. Although perhaps best known for two roles, as "The Monster" in Frankenstein (1932) and the title character in The Mummy (1932), Karloff acted in dozens of films between his start in 1916 in silent films and his death. In one of the films made toward the end of his career, Corridors of Blood (1958), he plays Dr. Thomas Bolton, a physician in the early Victorian era who is determined to find a drug that will obliterate pain during surgery. As he tells the other hospital physicians who mock his efforts, "Operations without pain are possible, and I'll not rest until I prove it to you." Like some of the historical figures in early anesthesia history, Bolton experiments on himself as he searches for the right dosage and becomes addicted.