Elton Romeo Smilie, the not-quite discoverer of ether anesthesia

Anesth Analg. 2010 Jan 1;110(1):195-7. doi: 10.1213/ane.0b013e3181af7f9a. Epub 2009 Aug 27.


Like William T.G. Morton, Elton Romeo Smilie (1819-1889) was raised in Massachusetts, attended medical school in New England, practiced dentistry there, strove for clinical invention, and moved to Boston. In October 1846, both announced that inhaled ethereal preparations achieved reversible insensibility in surgical patients. Smilie published a report in the Boston Med Surg J 3 wk before Bigelow used that forum to broadcast Morton's Ether Day. Smilie's preparation was an ethereal tincture of opium, and, as he mistakenly believed the opium to be volatile and important, he ceded priority to Morton for ether anesthesia. The two authors collaborated on chloroform, but Smilie soon headed off in the Gold Rush to California. It is tempting to speculate that Charles T. Jackson and Morton were indebted in part to Smilie.

Publication types

  • Biography
  • Historical Article

MeSH terms

  • Anesthesia, Dental / history*
  • Anesthesiology / history*
  • Anesthetics, Inhalation / history*
  • Ether / history*
  • History of Dentistry*
  • History, 19th Century
  • Humans
  • Massachusetts
  • Tooth Extraction


  • Anesthetics, Inhalation
  • Ether

Personal name as subject

  • Elton Smilie