History of anesthesia

Rafael A. Ortega, Christine Mai

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


It has been said that the disadvantage of not understanding the past is to not understand the present. Knowledge of the history of anesthesia enables us to appreciate the discoveries that shaped this medical field, to recognize the scope of anesthesiology today, and to predict future advancements (Table 1.1). It is generally agreed that the first successful public demonstration of general inhalation anesthesia with diethyl ether occurred in Boston in the 19th century. Prior to this occasion, all but the simplest procedures in surgery were “to be dreaded only less than death itself.” Throughout history, pain prohibited surgical advances and consumed patients. Imagine the sense of awe and pride when William Thomas Green Morton (1819–1868), a dentist from Massachusetts, demonstrated the use of ether to anesthetize a young man for the removal of a tumor. The celebrated demonstration in 1846 at the Massachusetts General Hospital heralded a new era of pain-free operations. As Johann Friedrich Dieffenbach, author of Ether against Pain, stated, “Pain, the highest consciousness of our earthly existence, the most distinct sensation of the imperfection of our body, must bow before the power of the human mind, before the power of ether vapor.”.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationEssential Clinical Anesthesia
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages6
ISBN (Print)9780511842306, 9780521720205
StatePublished - Jan 1 2011
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)


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