Oxygen Therapy: The First 150 Years
Curiosities, Quackeries, and Other Historical Trivia
A CHRONOLOGY FROM PRIESTLEY TO HALDANE, BASED MAINLY ON ORIGINAL SOURCES
With Editorial Comment
* * *
Clinical Professor of Medicine
Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, Cleveland
INTRODUCTION: Supplemental or "extra" oxygen is one of the most widely used therapies for people admitted to the hospital. It is also frequently used for patients with chronic lung disease who live at home. In all cases oxygen is administered by inhalation. The importance of oxygen therapy for many patients with heart and lung diseases is now universally recognized.
Oxygen makes up 21% of the atmosphere we breathe, but it was not discovered as a separate gas until the late 18th century. Although oxygen's life-supporting role was understood early on, it took about 150 years for the gas to be used in a proper fashion for patients. For the first 150 years after discovery, therapeutic use of oxygen was sporadic, erratic, controversial, comical, beset by quackery, and only occasionally helpful. Not until the pioneering work of Haldane, Stadie, Barcroft and others, early in the 20th century, was oxygen therapy placed on a rational, scientific basis. For the first century and a half, oxygen therapy was characterized by methods that could not have resulted in much physiologic benefit. Impurities in oxygen, its use on an intermittent basis, and lack of physiologic measurement were principal problems.
Excerpts quoted are from the early medical literature on oxygen therapy, and also from publications aimed at the general public. The latter, consisting mainly of promotional materials or advertisements, were often disguised as scientific books, articles and pamphlets. In all quotes the spelling has been left as published (except for Priestley, who used "f" in place of "s", the custom in the 1770s; this has been changed for the sake of readability). My comments are in brackets.
From time to time I will add links to biographical and historical information I have found useful, that exists on other web servers. As elsewhere on the internet, links are indicated by the key word or words underlined and in color, e.g. Joseph Priestley. NOTE: To return from any of these outside links to the History of Oxygen Chronology, use the back button on your web browser.
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CONTENTS (in chronologic order; ** means the entry contains a scanned image)
- 1774 -- Priestley: EXPERIMENTS AND OBSERVATIONS ON DIFFERENT KINDS OF AIR
- 1783 -- Caillens: FIRST CASE IN WHICH OXYGEN ACTUALLY EMPLOYED AS A REMEDY (as quoted by Smith)
- 1799 -- Beddoes and Humphry: NOTICE FROM THE BRISTOL GAZETTE and PUBLIC ADVERTISER
- 1820 -- Hill: PRACTICAL OBSERVATIONS ON THE USE OF OXYGEN, OR VITAL AIR IN THE CURE OF DISEASES. . .
- 1830 -- Silliman: ELEMENTS OF CHEMISTRY IN THE ORDER OF THE LECTURES GIVEN IN YALE COLLEGE. . .
- 1857 -- Birch: ON THE THERAPEUTIC USE OF OXYGEN. . .
- 1859 -- Birch: ON OXYGEN AS A THERAPEUTIC AGENT. . .
- 1866 -- Demarquay (translated by Wallian): ESSAY ON MEDICAL PNEUMATOLOGY. . .
- 1869 -- Wallian: SUPEROXYGENATION AS A THERAPEUTIC MEASURE
- 1869 -- Mackey: ON THE THERAPEUTICAL VALUE OF THE INHALATION OF OXYGEN GAS
- 1870 -- Barth: OXYGEN: A REMEDY IN DISEASE**
- 1870 -- Smith: OXYGEN GAS AS A REMEDY IN DISEASE
- 1872 -- Davenport: OXYGEN AS A REMEDIAL AGENT
- 1881 -- Starkey: COMPOUND OXYGEN -- ITS MODE OF ACTION AND RESULTS**
- 1885 -- Wallian: FURTHER REPORT: ON OXYGEN AS A THERAPEUTIC AGENT
- 1886 -- Wallian: A FURTHER WORD ON OXYGEN TREATMENT AND OXYGEN CHARLATANS
- 1886 -- Smith: CLINICAL NOTES: OXYGEN IN THERAPEUTICS
- 1887 -- Osler: THE TREATMENT OF PNEUMONIA
- 1887 -- Ehinger: OXYGEN IN THERAPEUTICS. A TREATISE. . .**
- 1888 -- Starkey & Palen: COMPOUND OXYGEN - ITS ORIGIN AND DEVELOPMENT**
- 1888 -- Kellogg: OXYGEN ENEMATA AS A REMEDY IN CERTAIN DISEASES. . .
- 1889 -- Wallian: Advertisement for Demarquay's ESSAY ON MEDICAL PNEUMATOLOGY and AEROTHERAPY. . .**
- 1890 -- Blodgett: THE CONTINUOUS INHALATION OF OXYGEN IN CASES OF PNEUMONIA OTHERWISE FATAL. . .
- 1890 -- Wallian: SOURCES OF FAILURE IN THE USE OF OXYGEN
- 1892 -- Osler: THE PRINCIPLES AND PRACTICE OF MEDICINE (1st edition)
- 1898 -- Osler: THE PRINCIPLES AND PRACTICE OF MEDICINE (3rd edition)
- 1899 -- Conklin: THE THERAPEUTIC VALUE OF OXYGEN
- 1908 -- Bainbridge: OXYGEN IN MEDICINE AND SURGERY. . .
- 1910 -- Willcox & Collingwood: THE THERAPEUTIC USE OF ALCOHOL VAPOUR MIXED WITH OXYGEN
- 1912 -- Hill: THE ADMINISTRATION OF OXYGEN
- 1914 -- Howitt: THE SUBCUTANEOUS INJECTION OF OXYGEN GAS
- 1916 -- Tunnicliff & Stebbing: THE INTRAVENOUS INJECTION OF OXYGEN GAS. . .
- 1917 -- Haldane: THE THERAPEUTIC ADMINISTRATION OF OXYGEN
- 1917 -- Meltzer: THE THERAPEUTIC VALUE OF ORAL RHYTHMIC INSUFFLATION OF OXYGEN
- 1920 -- Haldane & Barcroft: OXYGEN THERAPY.
- 1922 -- Haldane: RESPIRATION
- 1928 --Cunningham: "MONSTER STEEL BALL" HYPERBARIC CHAMBER**