Saturday, October 16, 2021

Oct 16, 2021, is Ether Day

Photograph of the first surgery
performed with the use of ether

Painting to commemorate the first surgery
performed with the use of ether

Ethers are a group of organic chemical compounds that are commonly discussed in biochemistry as they are often links in carbohydrates. However, the ether to be celebrated today is a specific example of this class of compounds, chemically named diethyl ether.

The first general use of diethyl ether was as entertainment in the early- to mid-1800s. “Ether frolics” were held by self-described itinerant scientific lecturers, who allowed audience members to inhale the fumes of diethyl ether. These eager participants were gawked at by the rest of the audience while they underwent what they later described as “mind-altering experiences.” 

In the mid-1800s, nitrous oxide (“laughing gas”) was used as a general anesthetic for surgeries. Physicians, noting the anesthetizing effects of inhaling ethyl ether, began attempting its use in medical settings. On October 16, 1846, dentist William T. G. Morton made the first successful public demonstration of diethyl ether general anesthesia in a dental extraction. The audience attended this surgery at Massachusetts General Hospital in what became known as the Ether Dome. A painting of the event by Robert C. Hinckley is titled The First Operation Under Ether.

For more information about diethyl ether, visit the links on this page:

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