The PioneersThe MilitaryReferences

Horace Wells (1815 - 1848)


In 1844 the dentist Horace Wells first observed the effects of nitrous oxide when he had it demonstrated on him by Quincy Colton, a member of a circus. Wells had a molar extracted by Dr John Riggs and he felt nothing. Wells then began experimenting with nitrous oxide and extracting teeth on his own patients, they were suffering no pain what so ever, he was quoted as saying “A new era in dentistry and tooth pulling, the greatest discovery ever made”.(utopian surgery) He approached John. Collins Warren 1778-1856 a surgeon at the Massachusetts General Hospital and was invited to demonstrate the technique.

The nitrous was not delivered for long enough or an insufficient dose was administered and the patient felt pain, Wells was booed out of the operating room with cries of:

“Humbug, Humbug”

It so happened that a former pupil of Wells, a W.G. Morton 174 Was at this demonstration and it was this that possibly gave him the impetus to perfect the procedure. Wells was unfairly discredited by the medical establishment and never recovered from the humiliation. Wells gave up dentistry and became a travelling salesman for the next couple of years selling household items and canaries.

In 1847 Wells was approached by WG Morton and was asked to market his Letheon in Europe. While in Europe he became addicted to Ethers rival Chloroform, and became unbalanced, so in January 1848 he returned to the USA. One day in New York whilst hallucinating, Wells threw Sulphuric acid over a couple of prostitutes; he was arrested for this act and was imprisoned. In despair after realising his appalling crime, Wells committed suicide by slicing open his femoral artery whilst under the influence of drugs. 174