George Washington Frost Mellen and Resuscitation with Nitrous Oxide in 1847


      • In 1847 George W.F. Mellen prominently proposed N2O instead of O2 for resuscitation.
      • Putative resuscitation with nitrous oxide was reiterated for at least 46 years.
      • Humphry Davy dubbed nitrous oxide to be respirable.
      • Support of flames falsely justified hypoxic nitrous oxide anesthesia.
      • Gardner Q. Colton embraced the concept of George W.F. Mellen.


      In The Boston Medical and Surgical Journal of 1847 (later to be called The New England Journal of Medicine), Boston chemist George Washington Frost Mellen claimed that inhaled nitrous oxide gas supports human life in the manner of oxygen gas, and he proposed the use of nitrous oxide in resuscitation from drowning and from carbon monoxide poisoning. The claim was reprinted in at least one dental journal and was long cited as justification for the use of 100% nitrous oxide for inhaled anesthesia. Advocates included anesthesia pioneer and painless dentist Gardner Quincy Colton. Though misguided as to nitrous oxide, Mellen was a prominent member of the Boston community for the abolition of slavery.


      To read this article in full you will need to make a payment

      Purchase one-time access:

      Academic & Personal: 24 hour online accessCorporate R&D Professionals: 24 hour online access
      One-time access price info
      • For academic or personal research use, select 'Academic and Personal'
      • For corporate R&D use, select 'Corporate R&D Professionals'


      Subscribe to Journal of Anesthesia History
      Already a print subscriber? Claim online access
      Already an online subscriber? Sign in
      Institutional Access: Sign in to ScienceDirect


        • Davy H.
        Researches, Chemical and Philosophical; Chiefly Concerning Nitrous Oxide: Or Dephlogisticated Nitrous Air, and its Respiration.
        J. Johnson, London, UK1800
        • Mellen G.W.F.
        Nitrous oxide gas in asphyxia.
        Boston Med Surg J. 1847; 37: 139-140
        • Mellen G.W.F.
        Nitrous oxide gas in asphyxia.
        Stockton's Dent Intelligencer. 1847; 3 ([Philadelphia, PA]): 213-214
        • Colton G.Q.
        Nitrous oxide vs. oxygen. Some curious mistakes made by the medical profession.
        New York Times, June 5, 1893: 3
        • Divine S.R.
        Directions for Making and Administering Nitrous Oxide.
        Enoch Morgan's Sons, New York, NY1867
        • Tatham D.
        An unrecorded Winslow Homer lithograph.
        Am Art J. 1987; 19: 75-76
      1. General Catalogue of Bowdoin College and the Medical School of Maine, 1794-1912. Bowdoin College, Brunswick, ME1912: 127
        • Stanton H.B.
        Random Recollections.
        3rd ed. Harper & Brothers, New York, NY1887