William Morton´s Biography

William Thomas Green Morton (August 9, 1868 – July 15, 1868). Better known as William Morton, he was an American Scientist and Dentist, recognized for making the first public demonstration of the effects of ether use, supplied by inhalation, as anesthesia during surgery.


However, he is not recognized as the first to discover it, due to the great legal controversy that revolved around this find, which was disputed with his professor Charles Thomas Jackson, dedicating the rest of his life to proving that only he was the author of this discovery.

However, both his studies and demonstrations opened a new chapter in the treatment of pain during the interventions, for which he is also considered one of the most important doctors in history.


Early Life

William Morton was born in Charlton, Massachusetts, United States, on July 15, 1819, to a farmer’s marriage, made up of James and Rebeca Morton. During his early youth, William had worked in Thab, as a typographer and salesman.

In 1840, he finally entered the College of Dental Surgery in Baltimore. In 1842, he began his internship in Hartford, Connecticut, where he had the opportunity to be a student of Horace Wells, who from that time studied what element could be used as anesthesia.

That same year he opened a dental practice, where he worked for a time with Well. Dissolved the society, in 1844, Morton entered Harvad University, in order to study medicine, a career he soon abandoned, motivated by his family’s economic situation, as well as his marriage union with Elizabeth Whitman.

Meanwhile, that same year, Horace Wells made a public demonstration of the effects of hilarious gas as anesthesia, failing in his attempt to uncover anesthesia.

Discovery of anesthesia

Morton had continued his career, dedicating himself to performing and applying dentures, so he was in permanent contact with extraction work.

Concerned about finding a chemical element that would help his patients not to feel pain, he consulted with his former professor Charles Thomas Jackson, who told him about the narcotic effects of ether, which had even been described in 1818 by Michael Faraday, who, who had experimented with this substance and its effects on different animals.

Morton also recalled seeing the effects of ether during his internship at Harvard, so he decided to try it on himself. Faced with the seemingly harmless results, he decided to put it into practice in his patients.

The first person Morton could test the anesthetic effects of ether was Eben Frost, a musician who came to his office with severe toothache. Morton inhaled the ether, getting the patient to become numb during extraction.

When he woke up, he confirmed that he had not felt pain during the procedure. The next day the news was published by the Boston Daily Journal. Upon the discovery, Morton formally asked the director of Massachusetts General Hospital John Collins Warren to allow him to make a public demonstration of his discovery.

The request was accepted. On October 16, 1846, doctors and students at the Hospital gathered to see William Morton intervene in 20-year-old Edward Gilbert Abbott, who had an infected tooth.

As with the former, Morton supplied Abbot with inhaled ether, numbing him. In five minutes he performed the procedure, without the patient feeling any pain, and giving rise to a new chapter in anesthesiology.

Legal battle

Faced with his success and with the intention of achieving a patent, which granted him the exclusive use and royalties of his possession, Morton tried to hide until the last moment the substance used, camouflaging the ether with other aromatic substances and calling it “Letheon”.

Nearly a month later, he was forced by an auditorium of doctors to reveal the active substance of the substance used as anesthesia, during his public demonstration.

However, in 1846 a patent for the “lethenon” was issued. While applying for a license that limited its use, given only to him, the French Academy of Medicine decided to award him for his discovery.

However, the five-thousand-franc prize was awarded to both Morton and his teacher Charles Thomas Jackson, which caused the fury of Morton, who rejected the prize and dedicated himself to proving that the discovery corresponded only to his merit.

In 1849, he even asked the United States Congress to cancel a hundred thousand dollar reward for his discovery, which did not proceed, due to the conflict over the intellectual property of the find.

Final years

After twenty years of legal litigation against Jackson, Morton died on July 15, 1869, of a vascular brain accident in New York City, failing to get the aether’s solo self-authoring as anesthesia, and financially ruined.

However, some historians say that in truth the first physician to use ether as anesthesia was surgeon Crawford Williamson, who during the removal of a tumor, carried out on March 30, 1842, had used the ether to lessen pain , despite not having made his find public, depriving himself of going down in history as the first to discover anesthesia.

Image source: fineartamerica.com

William Morton´s Biography
Source: Education  
July 28, 2019


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