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February 1, 1985

Samuel Latham Mitchill (1764-1831)A Neglected American Pioneer of Anesthesia

Author Affiliations

From the Department of Anesthesiology, Oregon Health Sciences University, Portland.

JAMA. 1985;253(5):675-678. doi:10.1001/jama.1985.03350290081030

In 1795, Samuel Latham Mitchill, MD, of New York City published a theory of contagion. He proposed that the cause of plaguelike disease was exposure to "gaseous oxide of azote" (nitrous oxide). During the course of his exposition of this theory, Mitchill presented a clear and vivid description of the effects of nitrous oxide inhalation and the resulting anesthetic state. This earliest description of nitrous oxide narcosis appears to have been overlooked. It antedates that of Humphry Davy by five years. Samuel Latham Mitchill should be accorded an important position among the pioneers of anesthesia because of this description and also because his interest in nitrous oxide was the direct stimulus for Humphry Davy's investigations, ultimately leading to introduction of anesthesia into clinical practice.

(JAMA 1985;253:675-678)