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The first recorded use of ether as an anaesthetic was in October 1846, during an operation to remove a tooth. The dentist was William Thomas Green Morton (1819-1868). This is a copy of the inhaler Morton used in his public demonstration, which took place in Boston, Massachusetts, United States. The air is drawn into the glass jar where ether-soaked sponges emit vapour which is inhaled by the patient through the glass mouthpiece at the top. The patient’s expired air is diverted by a valve in the mouthpiece. This type of inhaler was widely used and adapted by a large number of dentists. The original is on show at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

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Glossary: anaesthetic

An agent that causes insensitivity to pain. Applied to either the whole body (general anaesthetic) or a particular area or region (local anaesthetic).

Glossary: inhaler

A device for breathing in a drug in order to deliver it to the airways or lungs.