Great Scots

Scottish Name List


Photo Journal


Visit our Blog



William Thomas Morton

Few Men Have Done so Much for Mankind and Received Less

Until the discovery of ether as an anesthetic by William Thomas Green Morton, surgical operations caused excruciating pain. Few men have done more for mankind, yet strangely, Dr. Morton is relatively unknown. ■ Dr. C. Warren, the most eminent surgeon of his day, performed the first public operation with Morton’s discovery on trial. Dr. Warren said later, “This is the most valuable discovery ever made, because it frees suffering humanity from pain.” ■ William T. G. Morton was born August 9,1819 near Charlton, Massachusetts. His ancestors were among the earliest Scottish arrivals in America in the late 17th century. Morton started a dental practice in 1842 but he was disturbed about the pain caused by the dental practices of the time. ■ Although others had experimented with pain killers before Dr. Morton, none was successful and no one pursued the goal with such determination and singleness of purpose. In fact, the greatest physicians of the time said there was no way of preventing pain. Dr. Morton first used ether successfully as an anesthetic in the extraction of a tooth on September 30, 1846. Sixteen days later, he administered ether while Dr. Warren painlessly removed a neck tumor from a young man. ■ Dr. Morton’s independent demonstration of ether in surgery made its value known to the medical world for the first time. Reduced to poverty by his dedication to his work, he tried to recoup his fortunes with a patent on ether as an anesthetic, but a dozen spurious claims bedeviled him the rest of his life and made a patent virtually impossible. His discovery brought him almost nothing but poverty, persecution and heartache. He died in New York City July 15, 1868, at age 48.

Wayne Rethford, President Emeritus
Illinois Saint Andrew Society
Scottish-American History Club
2800 Des Plaines Avenue
North Riverside, IL 60546