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This gas cylinder, now empty, once contained nitrous oxide or ‘laughing gas’. In the late 1860s, nitrous oxide replaced chloroform as the preferred anaesthetic in dentistry. In England in 1868, George Barth and J Coxeter, of Coxeter & Son, a surgical and medical supplier, developed a way to turn nitrous oxide from gas to liquid so it could be stored easily in cylinders and sold commercially. Two years later, Coxeter & Son began selling cylinders of nitrous oxide for 3 d per gallon in exchange for empty cylinders.

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    Glossary: nitrous oxide

    Nitrogen oxide. A colourless, odourless gas that is used as an anaesthetic and analgesic. High concentrations cause a narcotic effect and may replace oxygen, causing death by asphyxia. It is also used as a food aerosol in the preparation of whipping cream.

    Glossary: gas cylinder

    A cylinder in which pressurized gas is stored

    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: dentistry

    The study, treatment and management of diseases affecting the mouth, jaws, gums, teeth and their supporting tissues.