James Young Simpson studied medicine in Edinburgh, Scotland, graduating in 1832. By the mid-1840s, Simpson had climbed the ranks to become a professor of midwifery in Edinburgh, relieving the pain of childbirth with ether, like his American colleagues. But Simpson wasn’t satisfied. He wanted a more potent agent, one that was pleasant to inhale, worked quicker, and didn’t cause vomiting upon awakening. He settled on chloroform, a combination of hydrogen, carbon, and chlorine. On November 4, 1847, Simpson invited two of his assistants, James Duncan and George Keith, and some of his friends, including a Ms. Petrie, to a dinner party. When the dinner was over, he asked his guests to sniff a variety of volatile gases, including chloroform. Duncan and Keith immediately lost consciousness, falling under the table. Ms. Petrie also lost consciousness, but not before declaring, “I’m an angel! I’m an angel! Oh, I’m an angel!” The next day, without animal studies, clinical trials, or federal approval, Simpson administered chloroform to a woman during a particularly painful delivery. “I placed her under the influence of chloroform,” recalled Simpson, “by moistening half a teaspoon of the liquid onto a pocket handkerchief [and placing it] over her mouth and nostrils. The child was expelled in about twenty minutes. When she awoke, [the mother] observed to me that she had enjoyed a very comfortable sleep.” The parents were so elated that they named their daughter Anesthesia. On November 10, 1847, Simpson told a group of colleagues what he had done. Ten days later, he described his experience in a medical journal, claiming that chloroform was more potent and easier to administer than nitrous oxide, and quicker to induce unconsciousness and less flammable than ether. Now the entire medical world knew about it.
Paul A. Offit (You Bet Your Life: From Blood Transfusions to Mass Vaccination, the Long and Risky History of Medical Innovation)