Statements Supported by Evidence… of the Anaesthetic Properties of Ether

William Thomas Green MORTON

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Statements Supported by Evidence… of the Anaesthetic Properties of Ether


MORTON, William Thomas Green. Statements, Supported by Evidence, of Wm. T. G. Morton, M.D., On His Claim to the Discovery of the Anaesthetic Properties of Ether, Submitted to the Honorable the Select Committee Appointed by the Senate of the United States. BOUND WITH: In Senate of the United Senate. February 19, 1853… Mr. Walker made the following Report. 32d Congress, 2d Session. Rep. Comm. No. 421. [Washington, D.C.: 1853]. Washington: 1853. Thick octavo, contemporary marbled boards rebacked in three-quarter diced brown calf. $4600.

First edition, an exceedingly rare presentation copy of the 1853 Senate Committee Report documenting the long and bitter controversy over Dr. William Morton’s revolutionary discovery of surgical anesthesia, a groundbreaking event with “an immediate and profound effect on medical practice”—inscribed to the “Franklin Institute Library, Philadelphia, Pen. With Respects of W.T.G. Morton, M.D. Boston, Mass.”—scarce in contemporary marbled boards.

"Probably no other event has had such an immediate and profound effect on medical practice as the discovery of surgical anesthesia." Although the anesthetic effect of certain inhaled substances had been noticed in the early 1800s, "before Oct. 16, 1846, surgical anesthesia did not exist" (Osler 1354). It was on that day that Boston dentist William T.G. Morton authoritatively "demonstrated the effectiveness of ether anesthesia during an operation performed at the Massachusetts General Hospital" (Grolier 100 Famous Books in Medicine, 236). Morton's landmark discovery came after drawing on his experiments and those of his partner Dr. Horace Wells, who "had used nitrous oxide with some success" (Heirs of Hippocrates). "Morton originally intended to keep the identity of his anesthetic substance a secret so that he could patent it," but a Boston surgeon who witnessed Morton's operation at Massachusetts General, inadvertently revealed the substance in an 1846 paper. Morton subsequently "sought compensation for his discovery from Congress, but a bitter controversy over discovery of ether as an anesthetic ensued when Morton's claim was disputed by Wells' heirs and Dr. Charles Jackson, who had used ether in his dental practice but was also mentally unstable and also claimed credit for guncotton and the telegraph. As an extension of the dispute, "a bill calling for an award of $100,000 to Morton was introduced in the United States Senate in August 1852. Although Morton had many enthusiastic supporters in the Senate, the bill was thwarted by Senator Smith from Connecticut— Dr. Wells' native state— who backed the claims of Wells' heirs. As a result of Smith's opposition, a Senate Select Committee was appointed to investigate the matter. The present work contains testimony and documentary evidence submitted on behalf of Morton, Jackson and Wells to the Select Committee appointed by the Senate during the Second Session of the 32nd Congress in 1853. The report of this Select Committee was passed in the Senate but failed in the House of Representatives. Morton's supporters persisted but the bill died during the 32nd Congress and Morton never received any remuneration for his discovery" (Heirs of Hippocrates). Consensus remains that "full credit… must be given to Morton… 'In science the credit goes to the man who convinces the world, not to the man to whom the idea first occurs' (Francis Darwin, 1914). Morton convinced the world; the credit is his" (Osler 1365). With 33-page Senate Committee Report No. 421 bound in at rear. Waller 14357. See Osler 1352-1355, 1358-1365; Grolier 100 Famous Books in Medicine: 64A-C; Norman 1556; Garrison & Morton 5651-5653, 5659-5660, 5730. This rare presentation copy is inscribed in what is likely a secretarial hand to the Franklin Institute Library of Philadelphia. With library plate tipped to front pastedown, small numerical notations.

Text generally fresh with tiny bit of expert archival restoration to corner of blank front free endpaper, light edge-wear, rubbing to contemporary boards. An extremely good presentation copy.

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