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James Young Simpson

This Month in Anesthesia History: January

1736 January 19: James Watt was born. Watt, of workable steam engine fame, developed a partnership in the mid-1780s with Thomas Beddoes as Beddoes attempted to market his therapeutic applications of Priestley's "factitious airs" or gases. Watt developed equipment for Beddoes' use; some of this equipment was later used in Bristol during the nitrous oxide experiments of 1799 and 1800. Watt, his wife, and one of his sons, James Jr., participated along with numerous others in those experiments.
James Watt

1779 January 18: Peter Mark Roget was born in London, England. After graduation from medical school in Edinburgh, Roget spent 1799 in Bristol working with Thomas Beddoes and Humphry Davy on their famous nitrous oxide research. Roget later wrote the Encyclopedia Britannica entry on Beddoes and near the end of his life created the thesaurus for which he is so well known [the first edition was published in 1852]. A prolific author, Roget also invented an improved slide rule used until the development of pocket calculators, and the pocket chessboard. He did research on vision physiology which he published in 1825 that is the conceptual basis for motion pictures. Roget died on September 17, 1869.  [For more information, see Wright AJ. Peter Mark Roget and the Bristol nitrous oxide experiments. Bull Anesthesia History 19(3): 16-19, July 2001]

Print of a portrait of Peter Mark Roget, from Medical Portrait Gallery by Thomas Pettigrew
Peter Mark Roget

1809 January 19: American writer Edgar Allen Poe was born. Lesser-known among his works are three tales dealing with mesmerism, or what we now know as hypnotism. Mesmerism was developed in the late eighteenth-century by Viennese physician Franz Anton Mesmer [1734-1816] and for decades was associated with quackery. However, several physicians in the 1830s and 1840s in England and India used and promoted it as surgical pain relief until the introduction of ether by Morton. Poe's stories featuring mesmerism are "A Tale of the Ragged Mountains," "The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar" and "Mesmerism Revelation." One recent history of mesmerism is Alison Winter's Mesmerized: Powers of Mind in Victorian Britain [1998]. Poe died in Baltimore on October 7, 1849.
Edgar Allen Poe

1813 January 21: James Marion Sims, an Alabama surgeon famous for his vesicovaginal operation while practicing in Montgomery, Alabama, was born. After Morton's October, 1846, public demonstration of ether anesthesia in Boston, Sims urged Georgia physician Crawford Long to publish an account of operations using ether that Long had performed in 1842. Long's account finally appeared in the December, 1849, issue of the Southern Medical and Surgical Journal. Sims was born in South Carolina and received his M.D. from Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia in 1835. For some years he practiced in Montgomery, but in 1853 moved to New York where two years later he opened the world's first hospital for women. He served a term as President of the American Medical Association and died on November 13, 1883. For more information about Sims, see
James Marion Sims, M.D. [1813-1883]

1815 January 21: Horace Wells was born in Hartford, Vermont.  He died January 24, 1848.
Horace Wells [1815-1848]

1842 January: In Rochester, New York, William E. Clarke administered ether on a towel to a Miss Hobbie, who then had a tooth removed by dentist Elijah Pope.

1842 January 11American psychologist and philosopher William James was born in New York City. Among his many other accomplishments, James self-experimented with nitrous oxide inhalation and left a brief but vivid description of his experience, "The Subjective Effects of Nitrous Oxide," originally published in the journal Mind in 1882. James was also a long-time supporter of Benjamin Paul Blood, another self-experimenter with anesthetic gases who described his philosophy in The Anaesthetic Revelation [1874] and other works. James, brother of authors Henry James and Alice James, died in 1910.

1845 January: Horace Wells attempted to demonstrate anesthetic properties of nitrous oxide at Massachusetts General Hospital. The anesthetic was incomplete and the demonstration considered a failure.

1847 January 12: Joseph-Francois Malgaigne described his use of ether as an anesthetic in several cases to the French Academy of Medicine. Six days later the famous surgeon Alfred-Armand-Louis-Marie Velpeau describes his experiences with ether anesthesia, not all favorable, to the French Academy of Science.

1847 January 19: In Edinburgh James Young Simpson first used ether for relief of childbirth pain.

1847 January 25: The first Caesarean section under general anesthesia was performed at St. Bartholomew's Hospital, London, just five weeks after James Robinson's first anesthetic administrations in that city. The surgeon was Mr. Skey and the anaesthetist Mr. Tracy. The child survived but the mother, who was only four feet tall and had a grossly deformed pelvis, died two days after the operation. [Lancet 1:139-140, 1847]

1847 January 28: John Snow began to administer ether for major surgeries at St. George's Hospital in London.

1848 January 28: A patient in Newcastle, England, named Hannah Greener became the first fatality under chloroform anesthesia. [See Duncum BM. The Development of Inhalation Anaesthesia. 1947. Rep. London: Royal Society of Medicine Press, 1994, pp195-203]

1862 January 10: Samuel Colt died. 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 1835 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. 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].
Samuel Colt [1814-1862]

1862 January 24: Novelist Edith Wharton was born in New York City. Among her numerous novels is Twilight Sleep [1927], a satirical portrait of the wealthy during the Jazz Age of the 1920s. The novel includes scenes of the administration of scopolamine for pain relief during childbirth, a popular method of the day called "twilight sleep." Wharton died in France on August 11, 1937. 

1886 January 1: Wealthy grocer Thomas Edwin Bartlett died in the Pimlico district of London from chloroform poisoning. In the spring his wife Adelaide and their spiritual advisor, friend and her lover, Wesleyan minister Reverend George Dyson, were tried and found innocent of the crime. The crime and trial become a spectacular event in London. English author Julian Symons' 1980 novel Sweet Adelaide is based on the case. [See also Farrell M. Adelaide Bartlett and the Pimlico mystery. Br Med J 309:1720-1723, 1994; and Clarke K. The Pimlico Murder: The Strange Case of Adelaide Bartlett (London, 1990)].
Adelaide Bartlett

1913 January 18: American actor and comedian Danny Kaye was born in Brooklyn , New York . One of Kaye's best known roles is in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, a 1947 film based on a short story by James Thurber. Kaye plays the title character, a meek little man who has elaborate daydreams of greatness. In one of those fantasies, Mitty imagines himself as a surgeon who in the middle of an operation must use a fountain pen to repair the malfunctioning anesthesia machine. Kaye died in Los Angeles on March 3, 1987.
Danny Kaye

1923 January 21: A Clark gas apparatus was used by Dr. Arno B. Luckhardt to administer an ethylene-oxygen mixture to J.B. Carter, a medical student. This event was the first use of ethylene analgesia in a human. They repeat the experiment later the same day with Dr. Luckhardt and Mr. Carter exchanging roles. Since 1918 Luckhardt and R.C. Thompson had extensively studied the anesthetic and analgesic properties of an 80/20 mixture of ethylene and oxygen in animals. Their work had been stimulated by the 1908 experiments of botanists William Crocker and Lee Irving Knight on the effects of ethylene on carnations. Ethylene had been known for more than a century; in the late 1700s Joseph Priestley attributed its first preparation to Jan Ingenhousz, a Dutch botanist and physiologist. In 1849 British surgeon Thomas Nunneley investigated the gas, but did not recommend it as an anesthetic. In May 1923 Luckhardt and Carter reported on 106 cases of ethylene as a general anesthetic. Ethylene continued in use clinically for some three decades, despite several explosions associated with its administration. In recent years ethylene has been suggested as the agent responsible for the exalted states associated with the ancient Oracle of Delphi. . [See, for instance, Foster J, Lehoux D. The Delphic Oracle and the ethylene-intoxication process. Clin Toxicol (Phila) 45(1): 85-89, 2007]

1942 January 23: Canadian anaesthetist Dr. Harold Griffith introduced curare into anesthetic practice. [See Gillies D, Wynands JE. Harold Randall Griffith. The pioneer of the use of muscle relaxants in anaesthesia. Br J Anaesth 58:943-945, 1986 and Bodman R, Gillies D. Harold Griffith: The Evolution of Modern Anaesthesia (1992)]