1632 October 20: Christopher Wren was born 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. Wren, the greatest English architect of his time who designed many of London’s cathedrals, died in that city in February, 1723. A much earlier attempt at blood transfusion was described by Stefano Infessura [ca. 1435-1500], an anti-papist lawyer in Rome. According to Infessura’s Diary of the City of Rome, when Pope Innocent VIII was on his deathbed, a Jewish physician suggested infusing blood from three ten year-old boys into the pontiff’s veins. All three donors died and Innocent himself died on July 25, 1492. The Catholic Encyclopedia warns that Infessura’s work is full of gossip and not to be trusted.

1708 October 16:  Swiss scientist and writer Albrecht von Haller, father of experimental physiology, was born. He graduated from medical school in Leiden at age 19 and returned to Bern where he lectured on anatomy and wrote poetry. His research on the irritability or contractility of muscle tissue was published in 1732 as A Dissertation on the Sensible and Irritable Parts of Animals. In 1736 he was appointed professor of anatomy at the University of Gottingen’s medical school, where he spent 17 years. In 1753 he returned again to Bern, where he died in 1777. Haller published numerous other works, including bibliographies on anatomy, surgery, botany and medicine and a very popular collection of poems. A brief review of his life is available here.

1760 October 23: Japanese physician Hanaoka Seishu was born in Hirayama. In October 1805 Seishu performed an operation for breast cancer using “tsusensan” as an anesthetic. The research behind this event is portrayed in Sawako Ariyoshi’s novel The Doctor’s Wife. Seishu died on October 2, 1835.

1772 October 21:  English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge was born. In 1799 Coleridge participated in the nitrous oxide experiments being conducted by Dr. Thomas Beddoes and his research assistant Humphry Davy at the Pneumatic Institute in Clifton, just outside Bristol. Coleridge and other luminaries involved left written accounts published in Davy’s great work on nitrous oxide which appeared in the summer of 1800. The enthusiasm for “laughing gas” inhalation by Coleridge, Davy, and fellow poet Robert Southey is depicted in the recent British film Pandaemonium.

1805 October 13: Japanese physician Hanaoka Seishu [1760-1835] performed an operation for breast cancer using “tsusensan” as an oral general anesthetic on a patient named Kan Aiya. The research behind this event is portrayed in Sawako Ariyoshi’s novel The Doctor’s Wife. [See also Ogata T. Seishu Hanaoka and his anaesthesiology and surgery. Anaesthesia 28:645-652, 1973] Seishu left case records of more than 150 breast cancer patients.

1835 October 2:  Japanese physician Hanaoka Seishu died. See entries above for 13 October 1805 and 23 October 1760.

1846 October 16: On this Friday morning, Boston dentist William Thomas Green Morton appeared in the operating theater of the Massachusetts General Hospital. Morton was running late, but surgeon John Collins Warren had not yet started the removal of a tumor from Gilbert Abbot’s jaw. For about three minutes Abbot breathed ether vapor from Morton’s simple apparatus the last minute adjusting of which had been the source of his delay–and “sank into a state of insensibility,” Warren noted later. The first public demonstration of ether anesthesia had begun and proved successful. Abbot “did not experience pain at the time, although aware that the operation was proceeding,” Warren wrote in his 1848 account of the event. The great surgeon is supposed to have declared, “Gentlemen, this is no humbug.” The next day another MGH surgeon, George Hayward, removed a large tumor from a woman’s arm while she was under the influence of the “Letheon,” as Morton called it; for several weeks he did not reveal the nature of his anesthetic agent since he hoped to patent it.  [Source: Keys TE. History of Surgical Anesthesia. Huntington, New York: Krieger, 1978, pp27-29]

1846 October 17: At the Massachusetts General Hospital surgeon George Hayward removed a large tumor from the arm of a female patient anesthetized with ether. This operation is the second successful public demonstration of Morton’s “Lethon.”

1848 October 19: Samuel Guthrie, American chemist who discovered chloroform about the same time as Europeans Soubeiran and Justus Liebig, died.

1849 October 7: American writer Edgar Allen Poe died in Baltimore. 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 was born January 19, 1809.

1854 October 16: Irish writer Oscar Wilde was born in Dublin. The author of such iconic novels and plays as The Picture of Dorian Gray and The Importance of Being Earnest, Wilde today is also remembered for his pithy, often hilarious observations about human nature and behavior. His mother Jane was also a writer and his father William was a prominent physician whose vast professional achievements, like Oscars, were tainted by scandal in his lifetime. [Defalque RJ, Wright AJ. Travers vs. Wilde and other: chloroform acquitted. Bull Anesthesia History 23(4): 1, 4-7, October 2005]. Father and son also had minor connections to the history of anesthesia. In his 1898 article, “Consciousness under nitrous oxide”, American philosopher William James quoted an anonymous letter widely believed to be written by Wilde. In it Wilde described the mystical insights he had during a dental anesthetic. “My God! I knew everything! A vast in rush of obvious and absolutely satisfying solutions to all possible problems overwhelmed my entire being, and an all embracing unification of hitherto contending and apparently diverse aspects of truth took possession of my soul by force [See James W. Consciousness under nitrous oxide. Psychol Rev 5:194-196, 1898]. Wilde died in Paris on November 30, 1900.

1881 October 15: English author Pelham Grenville Wodehouse was born in Surrey. As P. G. Wodehouse he published 96 humorous novels and collections of stories before his death on February 14, 1975. Many of the novels feature the wealthy Bertie Wooster and his valet Jeeves. One of his other novels, Laughing Gas (1936) tells the story of the Earl of Havershot, who exchanges identities with a child movie star after inhaling nitrous oxide in a dentist’s office. Since 1936 the novel has been reprinted numerous times, translated into Italian, Japanese and Spanish, and remains in print today.

1883 October 9: Ralph M. Waters was born. Dr. Waters’ achievements during a long career at the University of Wisconsin make him the father of academic anesthesia in the United States. Dr. Waters died in 1979. For more information see Lucien E. Morris, Mark E. Schroeder, Mary E. Warner, eds. A Celebration of 75 Years Honoring Ralph Milton Waters, M.D., Mentor to a Profession. Wood Library-Museum of Anesthesiology, 2004 [Proceedings of the Ralph M. Waters Symposium on Professionalism in Anesthesiology, Madison , Wisconsin , June 2002]


1888 October 17: American genius Thomas Alva Edison applied for his first patent for a device he calls a “Kinetoscope”–what we now know as a motion picture camera. Edison claimed that it would “do for the eye what the phonograph does for the ear.” Work on the device by Edison’s collaborator William K.L. Dickson had begun soon after the move the previous year into a new laboratory at West Orange , New Jersey . A prototype with the earliest film strips was demonstrated in May, 1891, and Edison ‘s final patent filed in August of that year. Work on the Kinetoscope was completed in 1892. The following year Edison opened a motion picture studio and by 1894 was opening Kinetoscope viewing parlors in New York and other major cities. Competition from other companies led Edison into numerous legal battles, and by 1918 he had abandoned the motion picture business. However, one of his studio’s early films, Dr. Colton, or Dentist Scene, has an important place in anesthesia history. This 1894 film was one of many actualities or short, non-fiction films made in the earliest period of motion pictures. A still from the film shows an elderly gentleman, apparently Gardner Quincy Colton, and others in either an actual or recreated dental procedure. If this is indeed Colton, who was born in 1814, he would have been 80 and the film made just four years before his death. In 1844 Colton had begun public nitrous oxide inhalation demonstrations in New England and toured the U.S. in subsequent years he even came to Mobile, Alabama, in 1848. In 1863 he established the Colton Dental Association and began touring the U.S. and Europe to promote nitrous oxide anesthesia in dentistry. By 1894 Colton was perhaps the best known anesthetist in the world. And the brief film from Edisons studio is probably the first ever made of an anesthetic procedure. Edison died on October 18, 1931, in West Orange, New Jersey, age 84.

1894 October 7: American author and physician Oliver Wendell Holmes died. In addition to his many other achievements, Holmes suggested to William Morton just weeks after Morton’s October 1846 public demonstration in Boston that the mental state produced by ether inhalation be called “anaesthesia.” The word is derived from an ancient Greek term meaning lack or loss of sensation and had been in circulation in English for over a century when Holmes suggested it be applied to Morton’s technique.

1902 October 25: American author Frank Norris died. In his novel McTeague [1899], Norris tells the story of a San Francisco dentist. Early in the novel McTeague attacks one of his patients while she is under ether anesthesia.

1939 October 7: American neurosurgeon and medical historian Harvey Cushing died. In 1894 Cushing and fellow Massachusetts General Hospital “house pup” Ernst Amory Codman [1869-1940] developed the first anesthetic record.

1947 October 13: In Britain, two patients, Albert Woolley and Cecil Roe, received spinal anesthesia from the same anaesthetist, Dr. James M. Graham,  for relatively minor surgical procedures, and both developed permanent, painful, spastic paraparesis. The men sued Dr. Graham and the Ministry of Health; the case finally went to trial in October, 1953, and lasted eleven days. The plaintiffs lost primarily due to testimony of Sir Robert Macintosh of Oxford University. Despite the outcome, the use of spinal anesthesia in the United Kingdom was retarded for the next 25 years. Details of the case can be found in Morgan M. The Woolley and Roe case. Anaesthesia 50:162-173, 1995.

1980 October: American Society of Post Anesthesia Nurses (ASPAN) was incorporated.

1990 October 21: Seven subspecialties were admitted to the ASA House of Delegates.

1994 October 24: Twenty-cent U.S. stamp honoring Virginia Apgar was released at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Pediatrics in Dallas, Texas.

2001 October 11: Betty Jane Bamforth, M.D., died in Madison, Wisconsin. Dr. Bamforth received her M.D. degree from Boston University in 1947 and after an internship in Boston, finished a residency in anesthesiology at Wisconsin General Hospital in 1951. She was one of the last residents trained by Dr. Ralph Waters, the father of academic anesthesia and the first chair of the University of Wisconsin Anesthesiology Department. Dr. Bamforth spent three years at the University of Oklahoma, and then returned to Madison in 1954 and remained on the medical school faculty until her retirement in 1992. She served as acting chair of the department from 1969 until 1971, and was thus the first female chair of that department. She also served in various capacities in the medical school. Well-known for her writing and lecturing on anesthesia history, Dr. Bamforth delivered the ASA’s Wright Memorial Lecture in 1982 and the Rovenstine Memorial Lecture in 1993. The Rovenstine Lecture is the most prestigious honor given by the ASA; she was the first woman to be so honored. Dr. Bamforth was born on January 20, 1923, in New Britain, Connecticut. [From Dr.Bamforth’s obituary, Wisconsin State Journal, October 16, 2001]

2001 October 16: British medical historian Dr. Barbara M. Duncum died. In 1947 Dr. Duncum published The Development of Inhalation Anaesthesia, which along with Thomas Keys’ The History of Surgical Anesthesia is one of the major histories of the specialty. Her book was reprinted in 1994. Dr. Duncum was born February 22, 1910.

2006 October 6: Charles Ronald Stephen, M.D., F.F.A.R.C.S., died. A Montreal native, Dr. Stephen graduated from McGill University medical school in 1940. In his long career he held academic anesthesia positions at Duke University, University of Texas Southwestern Medical School and Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, from which he retired in 1980. Dr. Stephen was renowned as a teacher and lecturer, and traveled around the world preaching the principles of anesthesiology with a passion that left a lasting impression on all who heard him. The author of more than 160 scientific papers, Dr. Stephen is also the only known anesthesiologist to author books on both pediatric and geriatric anesthesia. He was the founding editor of Survey of Anesthesiology and editor of the Anesthesia History Association’s newsletter for many years. In 1981, he was awarded the American Society of Anesthesiologists’ highest honor, the Distinguished Service Award. Following his retirement, Washington University School of Medicine established the C.R. Stephen Annual Lectureship series which reached its 18th year in 2006.