In today’s world, advertisements like the one at right might elicit gasps or guffaws. Ether for children — what were they thinking? But, back in the 19th and early 20th centuries, ether was considered a trusted anesthetic.
One of the earliest known uses of ether as an anesthetic on a surgical patient was in October 1846 when dentist William T.G. Morton reportedly administered sulfuric ether to a patient in Boston's Massachusetts General Hospital amphitheater. Later in the decade, forms of ether were continually used to sedate patients.
Advertisements for ether, like this one in 1936 (below), touted the product as “one of the purest, and, therefore, safest ethers available.”
The Bulletin of Pharmacy in 1907 pointed out that this particular brand is made “from the purest grain alcohol, under the supervision of skilled and experienced chemists, and it is especially tested and selected to meet the requirements of surgeons for an ether of the highest attainable purity and uniformity.”
Earlier, Samuel Brickner, M.D., wrote in an 1895 edition of Medical News, “Were I obliged to take an anesthetic, and did I place any high value upon my life, I should unhesitatingly choose ether.”
And up until the 1960s, ether was still used as an anesthetic in patients — particularly children — along with the administration of ethyl chloride during procedures, according to an Office of Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services article.