Nitrous Oxide gas (N2O) was first produced and described in 1772 by Joseph Priestley (1733–1804), a progressive English theologian, author and self taught chemist who is best remembered for his discovery of oxygen. Some years later, Sir Humphry Davy, an eminent British chemist and inventor, was the first to suggest the use of nitrous oxide to control surgical pain. Davy’s suggestion went unappreciated and instead nitrous oxide, or “laughing gas,” became a recreational intoxicant and spectacle for entertaining demonstrations.
It was not until 1844 that Horace Wells, an American dentist, thought to use nitrous oxide to prevent pain during tooth extractions. The idea came to him after witnessing a man badly injure his leg while under the influence of N2O, yet not recall the pain of sustaining the injury. Wells then had one of his own teeth extracted while under the effects of N2O. It was such a success that in early 1845 after using it in his dental practice, Wells gave a demonstration to medical professionals and students in Boston. The demonstration did not go well, and, with the subsequent successes of ether and chloroform, the anesthetic potential for N2O lay dormant a few more decades.
The N2O cylinder (or tank) shown here was made by the S.S. White Dental Manufacturing Company of Philadelphia, PA. White was the dominant supplier of dental supplies in the United States throughout the 19th century.
Catalog Record: Nitrous Oxide
Access Key: aili
Accession No.: 223 A
Title: S.S. White non-freezing nitrous oxid [cylinder].
Corporate Author: Samuel S. White Dental Manufacturing Company.
Title variation: Alt Title
Title: S.S. White nitrous oxide cylinder.
Title variation: Alt Title
Title: S.S. White N2O tank.
Publisher: Philadelphia : S.S. White Dental Mfg. Co., [1890-1900].
Physical Description: 1 gas cylinder : cast iron, nickel-plated brass[?] ; 40 x 8.5 dia. cm.
Subject: Nitrous Oxide.
Subject: Anesthetics, Inhalation.
Note Type: General
Notes: Title based on manufacturer’s markings with a descriptive clarifier.
Note Type: Physical Description
Notes: A cast-iron gas cylinder, painted black with metal (nickel-plated brass?]
valve-mechanisms at top; Paint warn and cylinder with some rust; With both
handwritten and manufacturer’s marks; Stamped on front of valve: “[the Lennox
logo and] 81820″; Stamped on the back of the valve: “NEW VALVE PAT APPLD
FOR”; The paper label on the cylinder has markings in three separate areas,
or panels; Manufacturer’s markings in the left panel of the label include,
“NOTICE [new paragraph] Always shut valve tight after using. [new paragraph]
Keep in a Cool Place. [new paragraph] Four gallons of nitrous oxide gas
weight one ounce. [new paragraph] This Gas Cylinder is subject to exchange
only with the purchase of Nitrous Oxid and Oxygen and is not acceptable for
credit on account against other merchandise.”; Manufacturer’s markings in the
center panel: “Cylinder No. 81820 [handwritten numbers, new line] 100 Gallons
[new paragraph and in large lettering] S.S. WHITE NON-FREEZING NITROUS OXID
[new line and smaller lettering] (Made in the United States of America) [new
line with the S.S. White trademark and logo, new line in very small lettering
] REG. IN U.S. PAT. [new line] OFF. & ELSEWHERE [new line] The S.S. White
Dental Mfg. Co. [new line] Philadelphia, U.S.A. [new paragraph] Printed in
the United States of America”; Manufacturer’s markings in the left panel:
“ATTENTION [new paragraph] Weight of Cylinder and Gas: 7 [handwritten
number] lbs. 4 [handwritten number] ozs. Weight of cylinder only: 6
[handwritten number] lbs. 4 [handwritten number] ozs. Weight of Gas only:
1 [handwritten number] lbs. 9 [handwritten number] ozs. [new paragraph] As
soon as received weigh this cylinder (without cap). If weight does not agree
with statement of weight on this label return cylinder at …” [paper torn];
Label with water damage.
Note Type: Reproduction
Notes: Photographed by Mr. William Lyle, 7/13/2010.
Note Type: Acquisition
Notes: Donated to the WLM by Donald Gordon, M.D.
Note Type: Historical
Notes: The founder of S.S. White Dental Manufacturing Company, Samuel Stockton White
was the first to mass produce false teeth in an economical manner. His
company evolved to become the major supplier of dental and medical supplies
throughout the 19th century.