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Nitrous Timeline

1772 Nitrous Oxide gas first discovered by English scientist Joseph Priestley.

1776 Joseph Priestley published his findings about Nitrous Oxide and other gases in 'Experiments and Observations on Different Kinds of Air', volume II of a three volume series. 1c.

1799 Humphrey Davy of the Pneumatic Institute in Bristol, England, experimented with the physiological properties of the Nitrous Oxide, such as its effects upon respiration. He administered the gas to visitors to the institute, and after watching the effects on people who inhaled it, coined the term 'laughing gas'.

1800 Humphrey Davy published the book, 'Researches, Chemical and Philosophical: Chiefly Concerning Nitrous Oxide', in which he described inhaling nitrous oxide himself and obtaining a degree of analgesia from a painful condition he was suffering. The information about the anesthetic effect of nitrous was not tested and utilized for another 45 years.

1800 - 1840 The primary use of Nitrous Oxide is for recreational enjoyment and public shows. So called nitrous oxide capers took place in travelling medicine shows and carnivals, where the public pays a small price to inhale a minute's worth of gas. Many dignitaries and famous individuals from Clifton and Bristol came to inhale Humphrey Davy's purified nitrous oxide for recreational purposes, including poets Coleridge and Southey, the potter Josiah (later Sir Josiah) Wedgwood, and Roget of Roget's Thesaurus. 2
1844 The anaesthetic properties of Nitrous Oxide are first demonstrated by Dr. Horace Wells, a British dentist.

1845 Dr. Wells demonstrates the effects of Nitrous Oxide at Harvard Medical School. Unfortunately, the patient having his tooth removed expressed that he felt discomfort; the audience booed Wells and the experiment was deemed a failure. This led to Wells' professional downfall and eventual suicide in 1848. It wasn't until 150 years later than Wells was recognized as the "Discoverer of Anesthesia".

1863 Nitrous Oxide resurges as an anesthetic used in dentistry, primarily through the efforts of Colton who opened a series of dental institutes utilizing Nitrous across the United States. At the time, 100% Nitrous Oxide was administered without supplemental oxygen.

1868 Colton and his partner have performed 75,000 extractions using nitrous oxide in the last 5 years. 5
1880 The use of anesthesia (chloroform, ether, or nitrous oxide) becomes generally accepted during surgery and childbirth.

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