To Be Known

To Be Known

The Quest for Recognition for the Discovery of Anesthesia

WTG_Morton“Friend Wells:

Dear Sir: I write to inform you that I have discovered a preparation by inhaling which a person is thrown into a sound sleep. …While in this state the severest surgical or dental operations may be performed, the patient not experiencing the slightest pain. I have patented it, and am now about sending out agents to dispose of the right to use it.”

A letter from William T. G. Morton to Horace Wells.
October 19, 1846

Jackson_Charles“I request permission to communicate through your medium to the Academy of Sciences a discovery which I have made, and which I believe important for the relief of suffering humanity, as well as of great value to the surgical profession. Five or six years ago I noticed the peculiar state of insensibility into which the nervous system is thrown by the inhalation of the vapor of pure sulphuric ether…. I have latterly made a useful application of this fact by persuading a dentist of this city to administer the vapor of ether to his patients, when about to undergo the operation of extraction of teeth. It was observed that persons suffered no pain in the operation.”

A letter from Charles T. Jackson to M. Elie de Beaumont in Paris.
November 13, 1846 

Wells_Horace“On making the discovery, I was so much elated respecting it, that I expended my money freely, and devoted my whole time for several weeks, in order to present it to those who were best qualified to investigate and upon decide its merits, not asking or expecting anything for my services, well assured that it was a valuable discovery.  I was desirous that it should be as free as the air we breathe; but judge of my surprise, after the lapse of many months, when I was informed that two individuals (Drs. Jackson and Morton) had claimed the discovery and had made application for a patent in their own names.

After making the above statement, and submitting the following testimonials and affidavits, I leave it for the public to decide to whom belongs the credit of this discovery. 

Horace Wells”

A letter from Horace Wells to the Hartford Courant.
December 7, 1846


….The only inheritance which Horace Wells has left is the reputation he has earned as a benefactor of mankind and my highest ambition is to leave this unquestioned before the world.”

Excerpted from a letter from Elizabeth Wells to an unknown correspondent.
Hartford April 1860