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October 1984

Cocaine: The First Local Anesthetic and the 'Third Scourge of Humanity': A Centennial Melodrama

Arch Ophthalmol. 1984;102(10):1443-1447. doi:10.1001/archopht.1984.01040031163009

"For me," said Sherlock Holmes, "there still remains the cocaine bottle."

Arthur Conan Doyle, The Sign of Four "The Strange Story of Jonathan Small"

PROLOGUE  Exactly 100 years ago, Carl Koller, a 26-year-old Viennese ophthalmologist, first demonstrated the ability of a drug to induce local anesthesia. Immediately, Koller was thrust into the international limelight, along with his then obscure colleague and friend, Sigmund Freud, aged 28 years, and with the internationally respected founding Editor of the Archives of Ophthalmology, Herman Knapp. They and the other participants in this drama were driven not only by their desire as physicians to alleviate suffering but also by their tremendous ambition, competitiveness, intellectual brilliance, and passion. The historical events surrounding the discovery of local anesthesia occurred with astonishing rapidity in the summer and autumn of 1884 and culminated with Knapp's translation and publication of Koller's epochal paper in the Archives of Ophthalmology that same

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