Horace Wells Plaque

WLMD ID: alev

The American dentist, Horace Wells (1815-1848) introduced the clinical use of nitrous oxide (N2O) for modern surgical and dental anesthesia.  On December 10, 1844 he attended a demonstration of the exhilarating effects of what was called “laughing gas”, given by showman Gardner Q. Colton (1814-1898.)  Already in search of a means to allay the pain of tooth extraction, Wells envisioned a new use for this gas.  The next day, he arranged for Colton to administer nitrous oxide to him while a dental colleague painlessly extracted one of Wells’ own teeth.  Wells immediately began using nitrous oxide in his Hartford, CT practice.

In January 1845 he applied to Dr. John Collins Warren (1778-1856) for a chance to demonstrate gas anesthesia near Boston’s Massachusetts General Hospital.  This opportunity was arranged for Wells by his former partner, Dr. William T. G. Morton (1819-1868.)  Warren granted the request, but Wells’ demonstration was considered a failure.  The following year, Morton himself successfully demonstrated ether anesthesia.   In 1863, Dr. Colton founded the successful Colton Dental Association, performing thousands of extractions under laughing gas anesthesia.  Largely due to Colton’s efforts, nitrous oxide became the primary anesthetic used for dentistry from the 1860s through the 1910s, when safer local anesthetics became widely accepted.  In 2004, the Hartford Dental Society created this plaque to commemorate the 160th anniversary of Wells’ discovery of anesthesia.

Catalog Record: Horace Wells Plaque

Access Key: alev
Accession No.: 2005-03-04-1 B

Title: 160th anniversary celebration: Horace Wells 1844-2004 discovery of anesthesia.

Title variation: Alt Title
Title: Wells 160th Anniversary plaque.

Publisher: Connecticut : Mr. Trophy & Co., [2004].

Physical Descript: 1 trophy : acrylic ; 22 x 11 x 5.5 cm.

Subject: Awards and Prizes.
Subject: Wells, Horace, 1815-1848.

Note Type: General
Notes: Date of publication based on the year that the celebration, for which the
trophy was made, was held. The date range could change if documentation, or
expert opinion, indicates that it should be corrected.

Note Type: Citation
Notes: Gies WJ. Horace Wells, Dentist: Father of Surgical Anesthesia. [Hartford,
Conn.]: [American Dental Association], 1948.

Note Type: Citation
Notes: Haridas RP. Horace wells’ demonstration of nitrous oxide in Boston.
Anesthesiology. 2013;119(5):1014-1022.

Note Type: Citation
Notes: [Pamphlet and program documents from the] 160th Anniversary Celebration of
Horace Well’s Discovery of Anesthesia. Horace Wells biographical file.
Located at : Wood Library Museum of Anesthesiology, Schaumburg, Illinois.

Note Type: Physical Description
Notes: One tear-shaped acrylic trophy on a rectangular base; The acrylic is a
transparent green, and marked on the back so that the following is readable
from the front, “160th Anniversary Celebration [new line] Horace Wells [new
line] 1844-2004 [new line] Discovery of [new line] Anesthesia]”; A
transparent sticker on the base of the trophy is marked with, “MR. TROPHY &
CO> [new line] Hartford (860) 246-2579 [new line] No. Haven (203) 239-9637”.

Note Type: Reproduction
Notes: Photographed by Mr. Steve Donisch, February 13, 2014.

Note Type: Publication
Notes: Smith GB, H NP. Gardner Quincy Colton: pioneer of nitrous oxide anesthesia.
Anesth Analg. 1991;72(3):382-391. https://journals.lww.
_Nitrous_Oxide.17.aspx. January 22, 2015.

Note Type: Exhibition
Notes: Displayed in the ASA Park Ridge Headquarters in a “Pioneers of Anesthesia”
cabinet from approximately 2010-2014; Selected for the WLM website.