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October 16, 1996

Sesquicentennial of First Publicly Performed Surgery Under Anesthesia

JAMA. 1996;276(15):1205. doi:10.1001/jama.1996.03540150007002

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ON OCTOBER 16, anesthesiologists and others will celebrate the 150th anniversary of the first public demonstration of surgery performed on a patient under anesthesia. The demonstration, which took place at Boston's Massachusetts General Hospital in 1846, is considered by many to be the most significant event in American medical history.

The amphitheater in the hospital's Bulfinch Building, where the surgery took place, is now a national shrine managed by the US Parks Department. It was there that several physicians, medical students, and other interested parties watched John Collins Warren, MD, chief surgeon and cofounder of the hospital, remove a tumor from the neck of Gilbert Abbott after William T. G. Morton anesthetized the patient with ethyl ether.

Morton, a dentist, had already used ether anesthesia for tooth extractions. News of the event spread quickly throughout the world. In less than a year, ether anesthesia was being used on every continent