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Early inhaler for ether anaesthesia, London, England, 1847-1848

Ether was first used as an anaesthetic in 1846 during the removal of a tooth. The dentist was William Thomas Green Morton (1819-1868), an American. This inhaler is adapted from Morton’s original. Morton called his invention the ‘Letheon Inhaler’ to keep the anaesthetising agent, ether, a secret and to control who used it. Ether-soaked sponges were placed in the glass jar. Flexible rubber tubing connected the valve to the face mask so the patient could inhale the ether. The outlet valve has a glass tube attached so more ether can be put on the sponges if needed.

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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.

Glossary: ether

A volatile liquid (resulting from the action of sulphuric acid upon alcohol) formerly used as an anaesthetic. Ether was usually inhaled.