Townsend Inhaler

WLMD ID: aqlg
This two-piece inhaler appeared in the catalogs of New York's Foregger Company from 1919 through 1926. The patent was granted to Maurice L. Townsend, of Charlotte, North Carolina, in 1918. He may have been the Southern physician, "M. L. Townsend, M.D.", who appears in medical journals of that time. The inhaler's parts screw together in two ways. When in use, the reservoir was screwed into the top of the mask. For compact storage, the reservoir could be nested inside the mask, and the same threaded connector held them together. Intended for use with either chloroform or ether, the Townsend Inhaler was marketed by Foregger for use in emergency procedures, obstetrics, and for self-administered pain relief. Even though the all-metal exterior construction suggests that it could be sterilized, the reservoir was lined inside with an absorbent material. Unless it was held in place, the off-center position of the reservoir would make it fall backward. This generally tipped it away from the patient's face, but its weight could potentially cause it to fall onto the patient’s airway.

Catalog Record: Townsend Inhaler Townsend Inhaler

Access Key: aqlg

Accession No.: 1401

Title: Townsend Inhaler / Foregger

Author: Townsend, Maurice L.

Corporate Author: Foregger Company.

Publisher: New York : Foregger Company, [between 1917 and 1930].

Physical Description: 1 inhaler : metals, textile, mica ; 12.5 x 9.5 diameter cm.

Subject: Inhalers, Anesthesia.
Subject: Anesthesia, Inhalation – instrumentation.
Subject: Chloroform – administration & dosage.

Subject: Ether, Ethyl.

Note Type: General
Notes: The first year in the date range is based on the date that the patent application was filed. In the same year, an “all-metal” Townsend ether inhaler was listed in the catalog of Powers & Anderson, a medical equipment firm located in Richmond, Virginia. The inhaler was featured in Foregger’s 1919, 1922 and 1926 catalogs. The second year in the date range is based on the date of the first known Foregger catalog issued after 1926.

Described from the operator’s perspective, with the steep notch, and the valve, in front.

Note Type: Citation
Notes: Foregger. Catalog 1919. New York: The Foregger Company, 1919:39.

Note Type: Citation
Notes: Foregger. Catalog 1922. New York: The Foregger Company, 1922:42.

Note Type: Citation
Notes: Foregger. Catalog 1926. New York: The Foregger Company, 1926:53.

Note Type: Citation
Notes: Powers & Anderson. Illustrated Catalogue of Surgical Instruments and of Allied Lines. Richmond, Virginia: Powers & Anderson, Inc., 1917: 91.

Note Type: Citation
Notes: Townsend ML, inventor. Inhaler. US patent 1,262,874. April 16, 1918.

Note Type: Physical Description
Notes: One inhaler; Composed of a metal mask and reservoir; The mask is has a scalloped lower edge, with the lip turned up to form a shallow trough; There is a steep, narrow notch in the front of the mask, and a long, shallow notch in the back; The exterior top of the mask has three features: from front to back, these are a breathing valve fitted with a disc of mica, a capped tube that may function a support for the reservoir, and a threaded connector; A horizontal row of holes at the bottom edge of this connector admits fresh air; The top of the mask is marked: “TOWNSEND INHALOR [new line] PATENTED [new line] MADE BY [new line] THE FOREGGER COMPANY [new line] 114”; The top of the mask also bears the painted accession number “1401”; The interior top of the mask has a threaded receptacle in the center;

The reservoir is a cylinder with a flat, featureless top, a striated top edge and a connector on the bottom; The connector is in the center of the reservoir’s diameter; The reservoir screws into the top of the mask; The mating connectors of the mask and inhaler each have a single notch; The reservoir is marked around the circumference, from left to right: “1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 0”. When the inhaler and mask are screwed together finger-tight, the number “1” aligns with the valve; Turning the inhaler to the right allows it to be set at any of the other numbers without appreciably loosening the connection;

When connected, the reservoir overhangs the back of the mask; This position keeps the valve clear and visible to the operator; At the same time, this distribution of weight makes the inhaler fall backwards unless it is held bolt upright; When disconnected, the reservoir fits inside the mask, making it more compact for storage; The inhaler’s threaded connector can be screwed into the receptacle inside the mask.

Note Type: Reproduction
Notes: Photographed by Mr. Steve Donisch, June 19, 2017.

Note Type: Historical
Notes: Maurice L. Townsend, of Charlotte, North Carolina, applied to patent his inhaler in 1917. In the same year, an “all-metal Townsend inhaler” was listed in the catalog of Powers & Anderson, a medical equipment firm located in Richmond, Virginia; that catalog provides no illustration of it. The patent was granted to Townsend in 1918. The cataloger found no other patents issued to this individual. The inventor may have been one M. L. Townsend, M.D. The cataloger found only one publication by “M. L. Townsend, M.D.” (appearing in the Southern Medical Journal), and two other occurrences of the name “M. L. Townsend” (both appearing in issues of the journal, Science.)

The Foregger Company was incorporated in 1914. The company’s earliest known catalog is dated 1919. Townsend’s inhaler appears in Foregger’s catalogs for the years 1919, 1922, and 1926. The Townsend Inhaler did not appear in any known subsequent Foregger catalogs. The manufacturer called the inhaler “a ‘rheostat’ for ether as well as chloroform”, and stated that it held liquids “without evaporation, when closed”. The mask and reservoir screwed together, with the reservoir on top. When not in use, it could be disconnected and then nested together with the reservoir inside the mask. The manufacturer emphasized this compact design, stating “For emergency, it should be in every practitioner’s grip (i.e. bag)” and “Used also in obstetrics, self-administering”. The patent illustrations show that the interior of the reservoir was fitted with a series of concentric baffles, resembling the coil of the Snow Ether Inhaler Mark 1.

There were several drawbacks to this inhaler. Even though the all-metal exterior construction suggests that it could be sterilized, the reservoir was lined inside with an absorbent material. In addition, this lining could retain some of the liquid anesthetic from one use to the next, making it possible to mingle ether and chloroform together. The off-center position of the reservoir causes it to fall backwards if it is not held bolt upright. The weight falls away from the patient’s face, but potentially towards the patient’s throat. This could be a particular risk during self-administration of a supine patient (one lying face-upwards).

Note Type: Publication
Notes: Roos CF, ed. Preliminary announcement of the second New Orleans meeting. Science. 1926;74:525-537.

Note Type: Publication
Notes: Section N (medical sciences). Science. February 5, 1932;75(1936):167-168.

Note Type: Publication
Notes: Townsend ML. Health education to prevent heart disease. Southern Medical J. April, 1926;19(4):271-275.

Note Type: Exhibition
Notes: Selected for the WLM website.