Davy comes to America: Woodhouse, Barton,
and the nitrous oxide crossing

Wright AJ.
Department of Anesthesiology Library,
School of Medicine,
University of Alabama at Birmingham
35233-6810, USA.
J Clin Anesth. 1995 Jun;7(4):347-55


In the final decade of the eighteenth century, a new method of medical treatment appeared in England when physician Thomas Beddoes developed a systematic application of Joseph Priestley's "factitious airs", or gases, to treat consumptive patients. Supported by peers such as Erasmus Darwin and using applications designed for him by James Watt and other inventors, Beddoes combined technological innovation and gas inhalation in an attempt to cure his patients. Late in the decade Beddoes hired young Humphry Davy as his assistant; Davy quickly added nitrous oxide to the armamentarium. The prominent group Davy assembled to help him test nitrous oxide and record their experiences has seldom been equaled in medical history as a research population. Davy left the Pneumatic Institution in March 1801 and joined the staff of the infant Royal Institution in London, but news of the nitrous oxide soon reached American. Physician James Woodhouse, a professor of chemistry at the University of Pennsylvania since July 1795, left in early 1802 for England, where he met Davy. A few years later one of his chemistry students preserved an account of the extensive nitrous oxide trials that took place in Woodhouse's classroom throughout 1807. In that work William Barton discussed and replicates Davy's research and agrees with his conclusions. Such intermittent experimentation continued in the United States and Europe until Horace Well's public demonstration of ether inhalation in January 1845. This paper describes how nitrous oxide inhalation survived in America through the work of Woodhouse and Wells. Traveling showmen like Samuel Colt and Gardner Quincy Colton demonstrated the gas' effects at popular lectures.
Samuel Colt
Nitrous oxide
Thomas Beddoes
Sir Humphry Davy
Gardner Quincey Colton
200 years of laughing gas
'The secularisation of pain'
Obstetric anaesthesia/John Snow
Laughing gas sweeps UK clubland
Nitrous oxide: analgesic v anaesthetic concentations

and further reading

Future Opioids
BLTC Research
Utopian Surgery?
The Good Drug Guide
The Abolitionist Project
The Hedonistic Imperative
The Reproductive Revolution
Critique of Huxley's Brave New World