Nitrous Oxide History

N2O, was first synthesized in 1775 by Joseph Priestley. Of the three early anaesthetics (chloroform, ether, and nitrous oxide), it is the only one still in regular use. While insufficiently strong for surgery, nitrous was found ideal for the lesser pain of dentistry. Humphry Davy, under the influence, coined the term "laughing gas", a branding that increased the novelty but certainly not its respectability. During the 1800s, nitrous became popular as a scientific demonstration for public edification and entertainment.

Horace Wells, an American dentist, attended a Nitrous stage show on Dec 10, 1844. Dr Wells noted its ability to inhibit pain, and decided to test on himself the very next day. Wells received nitrous until he was insensible and then his partner Dr Riggs removed the offending tooth. The operation was a success as were the following dozen. Unfortunately at the first public demonstration, Wells' patient received too little nitrous, reported pain, and the audience went away unimpressed.

In the 1860s, American surgeon Edmund Andrews combined nitrous with 20% oxygen, which permitted sustained anaesthesia.

Nitrous Oxide Quotes

...the atmosphere of the highest of all possible heavens [must] be composed of this Gas...

Robert Southey, 1820
"Not in the ideal dreams of wild desire
Have I beheld a rapture-wakening form:
My bosom burns with no unhallow'd fire,
Yet is my cheek with rosy blushes warm;
Yet are my eyes with sparkling lustre fill'd;
Yet is my mouth replete with murmuring sound;
Yet are my limbs with inward transport fill'd;
And clad with new-born mightiness around."
Sir Humphry Davy

"The gas used in these lectures by Dr. Colton was contained in a rubber bag, and was administered through a horrible wooden faucet, similar to the contraptions used in country cider barrels. It was given in quantities only sufficient to exhilarate or stimulate the subjects, and reacted upon them in divers and sundry ways. Some danced, some sang, others made impassioned orations, or indulged in serious arguments with imaginary opponents, while in many instances the freaks of the subjects were amazing..."

The Discoverer of Anaesthesia. Yale University Press, 1933

Famous Nitrous Users