Morton, William Thomas Green

Morton, William Thomas Green,

1819–68, American dentist and physician, b. Charlton, Mass., studied at Baltimore College of Dental Surgery. He practiced dentistry in Boston, for a time with Horace Wells, whose unsuccessful demonstration of nitrous oxide, or laughing gas, he sponsored in 1845. C. T. Jackson interested him in ether anesthesia, and in 1846 Morton demonstrated its use during an operation at Massachusetts General Hospital. The prior work of C. W. Long in ether anesthesia had not then been made public. Morton's subsequent claim to the discovery of the anesthetic effects of ether was bitterly disputed.


See G. S. Woodward, The Man Who Conquered Pain (1962); B. MacQuitty, Victory over Pain (1971).

Morton, William Thomas Green


Born Aug. 9, 1819, in Charlton, Mass.; died July 15, 1868, in New York. American dental surgeon, famous for introducing narcosis into surgical practice.

Morton received his medical education at the Baltimore College of Dental Surgery and at Harvard Medical School. On the advice of C. T. Jackson, a professor of chemistry, he used sulfuric ether as an analgesic while removing teeth, first verifying its effect on animals and then on himself. On Oct. 16, 1846, with Morton participating as anesthetist, the American surgeon J. C. Warren performed a successful operation for removal of a vascular tumor in a man under ether narcosis; the method rapidly attained wide use.

Credit for Morton’s discovery was claimed by the American physicians H. Wells, C. T. Jackson, and C. Long. In the ensuing dispute, which continued for some 20 years, Morton spent his entire fortune and died in poverty.


Remarks on the Proper Mode of Administering Sulphuric Ether by Inhalation. Boston, 1847.


Warren, J. C. Testimony to the Claim That Dr. W. T. G. Morton Is Entitled to Credit as the Discoverer of Anaesthesia. Boston, 1910.
Woodward, G. S. The Man Who Conquered Pain: A Biography of William Thomas Green Morton. Boston, 1962.