WLMD ID: aknj

Ether, a man-made liquid , was first described by Valerius Cordus in the 16th Century. Ever since, it has been known that inhaling the vapors of ether could cause, first, euphoria, and then drowsiness. It was applied topically, and taken orally, for numerous conditions, as well as being inhaled for respiratory ailments.  In the 19th Century, it was the first substance to be publicly shown to alleviate the dreaded pain of surgery.

In 1842, Dr. Crawford W. Long (1815-1878) used ether for surgical anesthesia in his private practice in Jefferson, Georgia. In 1846, dentist William T. G. Morton (1819-1868) used ether to give the first successful public demonstration of surgical anesthesia, at Massachusetts General Hospital. The technique was quickly adopted worldwide, but the ether made at that time was of variable quality, and gave unpredictable results. Dr. Edward Robinson Squibb (1819-1900) published a description of his process for the production of chemically pure ether in 1856. He did not patent this process, but founded a pharmaceutical company two years later. E. R. Squibb & Sons became the leading manufacturer of anesthetic ether for nearly a century.

Ether’s flammability, its lengthy period of induction, and post-anesthetic nausea, were disadvantages that caused many to begin hunting for a better alternative. One of the first of these was chloroform, which quickly surpassed ether in popularity. But chloroform’s side effects eventually returned ether to prominence, and it was not completely replaced by newer agents until the 1970s.

Catalog Record: Ether

Access Key: aknj
Accession No.: 159-09-17-1 A

Title: Ether for anaesthesia / E. R. Squibb & Sons.

Corporate Author: E. R. Squibb & Sons.

Title variation: Alt Title
Title: Squibb ether can.

Publisher: Brooklyn, NY: E.R. Squibb & Sons, [1882-1910].

Physical Descript: 1 can : metal, paper : 12 x 7.5 cm.

Subject: Drug Packaging.
Subject: Ether, Ethyl.

Note Type: General
Notes: Early year (1882) in the date range for the possible year of manufacture is
based on the year that E. R. Squibb became E. R. Squibb & Sons (Squibb …,
1971). The latest year in the possible year of manufacture is based on the
year that the Squibb manufacturing plants opened in New Brunswick, New Jersey
which was 1909. The date range could change if documentation indicates the
range should be corrected.

Note Type: Citation
Notes: Ball C, Westhorpe R. Ether before anaesthesia. Anaesth Intensive Care.

Note Type: Citation
Notes: Bause GS. Cordus’ synthesis of ether. Anesthesiology. 2009;111(4):804.

Note Type: Citation
Notes: Drews J. The history of the pharmaceutical industry: natural substances as
drugs. In: Kramer D, trans. In Quest of Tomorrow’s Medicines. New York:
Springer-Verlag; 1999:28.

Note Type: Citation
Notes: Fischbaum MN. Drug, 28.3. Whitten DO, ed. Manufacturing: A Historiographical
and Bibliographical Guide. New York: Greenwood Press; 1990:151. Handbook of
American Business History; vol 1.

Note Type: Citation
Notes: Frobenius. An account of a Spiritus Vini Æthereus, together with several
experiments tried”. Phil Trans. 1730;36(413):283–289. https://rstl. Accessed
September 18, 2013.

Note Type: Citation
Notes: Garrison WC; Bureau of Statistics of New Jersey. The Industrial Directory of
New Jersey. Camden, NJ: S. Chew & Sons Co.; 1909:309.

Note Type: Citation
Notes: Mortimer C. Abstracts of the original papers communicated to the Royal
Society by Sigismond Augustus Frobenius, M. D. concerning his Spiritus Vini
Aethereus: collected by C. Mortimer, M. D. Secr. R. S. Phil Trans.
1739;41(452-461):864-870. https://rstl.royalsocietypublishing.
org/content/41/452-461/864.full.pdf+html. Accessed September 18, 2013.

Note Type: Citation
Notes: Rey R ; Cadden JA, Vallace LE, Cadden SW, translators. Pain in the
Renaissance. The History of Pain. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press:

Note Type: Citation
Notes: Squibb, Edward Robinson (1819-1900). In: Van Doren CL, HcHenry R, ed.
Webster’s Guide to American History: A Chronological, Geographical, and
Biographical Survey and Compendium. Springfield, Mass.: G. & C. Merriam Co.;

Note Type: Citation
Notes: Squibb ER. Spiritus aetheris nitrici. Am J Pharm. July, 1856;4:289-304.

Note Type: Physical Description
Notes: One cylindrical can for ether measuring approximately 12 cm in height, 7.1 cm
in diameter at the base, and 2 cm in diameter at the opening at the top; The
opening narrows at the neck and may once have been plugged closed by wood or
cork; The can is covered with green paper, and has a faded white label with
black lettering; The lettering includes, “205 GRAMMES [new line] FOR
ANAESTHESIA [new line] E. R. SQUIBB & SONS. [new line] BROOKLYN, N.Y.”

Note Type: Reproduction
Notes: Photographed by Mr. Steve Donisch on June 10, 2013.

Note Type: Historical
Notes: The advent of anesthesia for surgery is one of the greatest advancements in
medical history. Before the discovery of anesthesia, surgery was horrifically
painful and an intervention of last resort. Ether was the first anesthetic to
be publicly shown to alleviate pain during surgery.

Note Type: Historical
Notes: The first published description of a method for producing ether came from a
book printed in the mid-1500s. Titled De Artificiosis Extractionibus Liber,
it was written by the young German pharmacist and physician Valerius Cordus
(1515-1544). Valerius referred to the substance as, “sweet oil of vitriol”.
It is believed that the term, “ether” was coined in 1730 by the chemist
August Sigmund Frobenius, who wrote a paper titled, “An Account of a Spiritus
Vini Æthereus, Together with Several Experiments Tried”.

Note Type: Historical
Notes: From the 1730s to the early 1900s, ether was applied topically and taken
orally for an endless number of illnesses, including toothaches, headaches,
whooping cough and epilepsy. During the late 1700s and early 1800s it became
common to inhale ether for respiratory ailments. It did not take long for
ether to be inhaled solely for its intoxicating effect. During the first half
of the 19th century it was not unusual for college students and young adults
to attend parties called “ether frolics,” where ether was inhaled and
participants enjoyed the pleasant feeling and amusing behavior of their

Note Type: Historical
Notes: In 1853, less than a decade after the first public demonstration of ether’s
anesthetic properties, physician and chemist Edward Robinson Squibb
(1819-1900) began to develop a method and apparatus for the distillation of
ether. He published the details in an 1856 issue of the American Journal of
Pharmacy. In 1857 Squibb establish a laboratory in Brooklyn, New York and
founded the pharmaceutical company E. R. Squibb. Ether for surgical
anesthesia was the company’s first product.

Note Type: Publication
Notes: Klein U. Blending technical innovation and learned natural knowledge: the
making of ethers. In: Spary EC, Klein U, eds. Materials and Expertise in
Early Modern Europe: Between Market and Laboratory. Chicago: University of
Chicago Press; 2010:125-158.

Note Type: Publication
Notes: Moore W. Ether frolics. BMJ. 2013;346:f3861. doi:

Note Type: Exhibition
Notes: Chosen for the WLM website (noted September 10, 2013).