High School Biology and Chemistry High School Society and the World TSS

The Development of Modern Anesthesia

The story of William T.G. Morton's public success with ether anesthesia.

Gone are the days where people must endure the pain from toothaches, surgery, child labor, etc. Since 4000 BCE, many cultures of people have used alternative medicines to conquer the pain (1, 2). These alternatives range from opium to acupuncture to ether (1). Such advances brought people closer to pain relief. However, none of these accomplishments amount to the success of William T. G. Morton.

On October 16, 1846, Morton and some colleagues were in the surgical amphitheater at Massachusetts General Hospital ready to perform a groundbreaking advancement (3). It was on this day that Morton successfully administered ether anesthesia (1).

Morton was a dentist and, like many people over time, he wanted a way for patients to undergo surgery with as little or no pain. In doing so, he made an inhaler for his patient Glenn Abbott so the anesthesia could be administered and the surgery for the removal of a vascular tumor could begin (3, 4).

A replica of the inhaler that Morton used for the surgery (4). 

Unlike some, Morton’s story doesn’t end with a great status in the medical community nor a great business from making more medicine. Instead, he tries to patent his discovery, something relatively unheard of during the late 19th century (3). This leads him to live the rest of his life with a shamed reputation and no financial success (3).

The importance of this event made lasting effects in the field of medicine. Surgery without pain was now a possibility. The story isn’t as bright as others, but medicine as a whole was greatly impacted and this paved the road for further developments.


(1) “History of Anesthesia.” Wood Library Museum, http://www.woodlibrarymuseum.org/history-of-anesthesia/.

(2) Robinson, D H, and A H Toledo. “Historical Development of Modern Anesthesia.” Advances in Pediatrics., U.S. National Library of Medicine, June 2012, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22583009.

(3) Markel, Howard. “The Painful Story behind Modern Anesthesia.” PBS, Public Broadcasting Service, 16 Oct. 2013, http://www.pbs.org/newshour/health/the-painful-story-behind-modern-anesthesia.  

(4) Lyle, William. “Replica of Morton Inhaler.” Wood Library-Museum of Anesthesiology, Schaumburg, 27 July 2010, http://www.woodlibrarymuseum.org/museum/item/2/replica-of-morton-inhaler.

About Lyssa M

Okay a little bit about me! My name is Lyssa M and I'm a junior at ILTexas Keller Saginaw HS that is pretty involved in school activities. I am the NHS president, member of both the Spanish Honor Society and Chinese Honor Society, part of the Latino Student Union, a player in my school's varsity guitar ensemble, math and English tutor, part of the STEM club and Mariachi club. I have a great passion for both science and journalism. Right now, my school doesn't have a newspaper, but I plan to start a club for this upcoming year. I am happy to be joining The Student Scientist and hope that my articles will intrigue people to learn more!

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