Oxygen Therapy: The First 150 Years (continued)



[Oxygen was discovered independently by the Swedish apothecary Karl W. Scheele, in 1772, and by the English amateur chemist Joseph Priestley (1733-1804), in August 1774.

Priestley first liberated oxygen by intensely heating 'mercurius calcinatus' (mercuric oxide) placed over liquid mercury in a closed vessel. He called this new gas "dephlogisticated air," since he believed (as did many others) in the phlogiston theory. This theory (which was soon to be thoroughly discredited by the brilliant French chemist Antoine Lavoisier) held that combustible substances, on burning, yielded up a mysterious something called "phlogiston"; the more phlogiston held by the substance, the more combustible it was. By this theory, ordinary air contained some phlogiston, placed there by countless past combustions.

Mercuric oxide was the residue (calx) of previously heated mercury, and hence (according to Priestley) contained no phlogiston. When the mercuric oxide was heated in a closed vessel, it absorbed all the surrounding air's phlogiston. The air remaining became "dephlogisticated," hence purer than ordinary air.

One can best understand the writings of Priestly by equating "phlogisticated" with "de-oxygenated" and "de-phlogisticated" with "oxygenated." Although this theory was completely backwards from the truth, it engaged some of the greatest scientific minds of the the 18th century.

Priestley was unaware of Scheele's earlier work, since it was not published until 1777. Because of his early publication and subsequent detailed experiments on the nature of this new gas, plus his direct influence on Lavoisier (who actually named the gas "oxygene", meaning acid-former), Priestley is usually credited with the discovery of oxygen.

In 1775 Priestley published his findings, which also included the discovery of nitrous oxide, in a 6-volume series called called Experiments and Observations on Different Kinds of Air. This was updated in a three volume work in 1790, which is quoted below, including the full title page. (In the quotes I have changed Priestley's use of "f" to "s" where appropriate.) As far as we know, Priestley was the first person ever to inhale air with a greater than normal concentration of oxygen. Passages relating to this inhalation, and his observations about it, are quoted below (from Vol. 2 of the 1790 work).]










Being the former Six Volumes abridged and methodized, with many Additions.

By Joseph Priestley, LL.D.F.R.S.



. . .I have gratified that curiosity by breathing it, drawing it through a glass syphon, and, by this means, I reduced a large jar full of it to the standard of common air. The feeling of it to my lungs was not sensibly different from that of common air; but I fancied that my breast felt peculiarly light and easy for some time afterwards. Who can tell but that, in time, this pure air may become a fashionable article in luxury. Hitherto only two mice and myself have had the privilege of breathing it.[p. 162]

. . .From the greater strength and vivacity of the flame of a candle, in this pure air, it may be conjectured, that it might be peculiarly salutary to the lungs in certain morbid cases, when the common air would not be sufficient to carry off the putrid effluvium fast enough. But, perhaps, we may also infer from these experiments, that though pure dephlogisticated air [oxygen] might be very useful as a medicine, it might not be so proper for us in the usual healthy state of the body; for, as a candle burns out much faster in dephogisticated than in common air, so we might, as may be said, live out too fast, and the animal powers be too soon exhausted in this pure kind of air. A moralist, at least, may say, that the air which nature has provided for us is as good as we deserve. [pages 168-169].


1783 - Caillens -- FIRST CASE IN WHICH OXYGEN ACTUALLY EMPLOYED AS A REMEDY. . . [In the 19th century oxygen literature there are many references to this French physician, as the first one to employ oxygen in treating a patient. I do not have the original article, but see quote from Smith, 1870.]


NOTICE FROM THE BRISTOL GAZETTE and PUBLIC ADVERTISER, March 21, 1799. [In 1798 the Pneumatic Institution for inhalation gas therapy was founded by Thomas Beddoes (1760-1808), a physician-philosopher, in Bristol, England. He employed Humphry Davy (1778-1829), a brilliant young scientist as superintendent of the Institute, and the engineer James Watt (1736-1819), to help manufacture the gases. The institute was an outgrowth of the new knowledge about gases (such as oxygen and nitrous oxide) and their manufacture. However, therapy was based on Beddoes' generally incorrect assumptions about disease; for example, Beddoes assumed that some diseases would naturally respond to a higher or lower oxygen concentration. As might be expected, the treatments offered no real clinical benefit, and the Institute succumbed in 1802. Davy later described his own work at the Institute as "the dreams of misemployed genius which the light of experiment and observation has never conducted to truth." (See Leigh JM, Early Treatment With Oxygen. Anesthesia, 1974, Volume 29, pages 194-208.) Davy went on to become famous in the field of chemistry, and was later knighted. Quoted below is the first public notice of the Pneumatic Institute.]



This institution is fixed at the upper end of Dowry-Square, Hotwells, corner house. It is intended among other purposes for treating diseases, hitherto found incurable, upon a new plan. Among the subscribers are almost all the Medical professors at Edinburgh, and a large portion of the Physicians in England, who have done anything to improve the practice of their art.

At present it is only ready for out-patients, and the attendance of persons inConsumption, Asthma, Palsy, Dropsy, obstinate Venereal Complaints, Scrophula or King'sEvil, and other diseases, which ordinary means have failed to remove is desired.

Patients will be treated gratis. The application of persons in confirmed consumption is principally wished at present; and though the disease has heretofore been deemed hopeless, it is confidently expected that a considerable portion of such cases will bepermanently cured.

It has been perfectly ascertained by experience, that none of the methods to bepursued are hazardous or painful.

Attendance will be given from Eleven till One o'clock by Thomas Beddoes or Humphry Davy.

Subscriptions for the support of this Institution received by John Savery, Esq., NarrowWine Street, Bristol.


PRACTICAL OBSERVATIONS ON THE USE OF OXYGEN, OR VITAL AIR IN THE CUREOF DISEASES: TO WHICH ARE ADDED, A FEW EXPERIMENTS ON THE VEGETATIONOF PLANTS, ILLUSTRATED WITH FIVE ENGRAVINGS, by Daniel Hill, M.D., Surgeon,Honorary Member of the Medical Society at Guy's Hospital, and Fellow of the Horticultural Society. [This privately printed pamphlet was produced by one the early advocates of oxygen therapy. According to the review by JM Leigh, quoted above, the pamphlet described success in cases of nervous debility, epilepsy, hydrocephalus, and scrophula. Hill also described enhanced growth of plants exposed to oxygen.]


[In this famous series of Yale lectures, Dr. Silliman made comment on the use of oxygen gas by quoting a French physician named Chaptal. The quoted excerpt is from page 190 of thepublished lectures.]

by Benjamin Silliman

New Haven; Printed and Published by Hezekiah Howe,1830

Oxygen gas, when respired in the human lungs, generally produces a sensation ofagreeable warmth about the region of the chest, and some say that they experience acomfortable sensation through the whole body. Chaptal relates the following instance ofits effects on a man in consumption. "Mr. DeB." says this write, "was in the last stage of aconfirmed phthisis. Extreme weakness, profuse sweats, and in short, every symptomannounced the approach of death. One of my friends, Mr. De P----, put him on a course ofvital air. The patient respirated it with delight, and asked for it with all the eagerness of aninfant at the breast. During the time that he respired it, he felt a comfortable heat whichdistributed itself through all his limbs. His strength increased with the greatest rapidity;and in six weeks, he was able to take long walks. This state of health lasted for sixmonths; but after this interval he relapsed; and being no longer able to have recourse tothe use of vital air, because Mr. De P---- had departed for Paris, he died. I am very far, addsMr. Chaptal, from believing that the respiration of vital air ought to be considered as aspecific, in cases of this nature. I am even in doubt whether this powerful air is perfectlyadapted to such circumstances; but it inspires cheerfulness, renders the patient happy,and in desperate cases, it is certainly a most precious remedy, which can spread flowerson the borders of the tomb, and prepare us in the gentlest manner for the last dreadfuleffort of nature.


ON THE THERAPEUTIC USE OF OXYGEN, by S.B. Birch, M.D. The Lancet, August 1, 1857; page 112. [Dr. Birch was an early and frequent contributor to the British journals regarding oxygen therapy. From the hindsight of 150 years later, Dr. Birch's prescience and enthusiasm seem remarkable. Dr. Birch's counterpart in the U.S. was Samuel Wallian, who began a crusade for oxygen therapy about a decade later. I have included two of Dr. Birch's articles in this chronology, one from the 1857 Lancet and another from the 1859 BMJ. The 1857 quote, constituting the first two paragraphs of the Lancet paper, shows the status of oxygen therapy in mid-19th-century England.]


by S.B. Birch, M.D.
The Lancet
August 1, 1857

In venturing to call professional attention to the subject of this paper, I may safely premise with the remark, that it is one respecting which there exist great diversity of opinion and very little practical knowledge. The therapeutic use of oxygen gas, either alone or as an adjunct, in various intractable diseases, is a subject of vast importance to my professional brethren, enhanced in value as it is by an impartial reflection upon the still very uncertain and unsatisfactory state of our knowledge of medicinal modus operandi. Thus far, excepting to a few individuals and to a very limited extent, this gas, although so well known in its physiological relations, has been practically litttle better than a "secret" in it therapeutic bearings. Notwithstanding that from the time of Dr. Beddoes and Sir Humphry Davy several practitioners have made successful trial in private practice -- notwithstanding that the researches of modern chemistry have made us more scientifically cognizant than formerly of the relations of oxygen to the other elements of the vital organism -- notwithstanding that the daily observations of every man who has disease to treat shows him that the patient needs plenty of pure air, more air (in other words more oxygen) than he can possibly obtain under many circumstances and in many diseased states from the atmosphere around him -- the idea seems merely to float through the professional mind, without any resulting general endeavor to make a practical application of it.

It would not be difficult to show cause why the use of this remedy has been neglected. It involves some trouble and loss of time to the practitioner, and consequently the very want of practical knowledge still existing may be justly attributed to the neglect to carry out fair trials on a sufficient scale in practice. Thus the profession has been led to overlook or ignore oxygen as a medicine, even though chemical science tells us decidedly that it ought to be a most valuable remedial agent. A single trial, or several trials on several patients, are no evidence, if they fail, against its value; they are only proof either that it was not suited to the case, or that it was not properly exhibited. Drs. Beddoes, Thornton, Hill, and others, who have tested this gas in a sufficiently large number of cases, afford conclusive evidence that it is a powerful, therapeutic; while occasional experiements, in which it has been unsuccessfully tried, can only be accepted as proof that, were we to seek an "universal pancacea," oxygen is not thar remedy. True, medical science will learn to value it at its intrinsic worth only when it is allowed to have a fair and sufficiently extensive trial.


ON OXYGEN AS A THERAPEUTIC AGENT, by S.B. Birch, M.D. British Medical Journal,December 24, 1859; Vol. CLVL, pages 1033-1035. [In this article Dr. Birch makes some interesting observations, attributing cures to brief uses of oxygen inhalations. His reports did not go uncriticized, as it was obvious to most physicians that oxygen used intermittently could not possibly cure all the conditions claimed by Birch.]


by S.B. Birch, M.D.
British Medical Journal,
December 24, 1859

The gradually increasing interest, which I now find existent in the profession, with regard to oxygen as a therapeutic agent, induces me to believe that a communication onthis subject may not prove unacceptable at this our annual meeting, particularly if thepaper offered be rendered as practically useful as possible.

Somewhat discouraged by much opposition, passive and active, I have thus farpermitted myself to remain comparatively isolated. . .It may seem presumptuous toimagine that I may succeed where Drs. Beddoes, Hill, and Thornton (although eminentlysuccessful in their own practice), left no permanent impression; where hospitalexperimenters are reported to have always failed; where authorities in general aredecidedly adverse. . .

. . . I know a lady in London who, with fatty degeneration, and probably attenuation ofthe muscular walls, and enlargement of the cavity of the heart, has been kept alive for thelast three years by a dose of oxygen almost daily. On many occasions in this lady's case,the heart's action, capable of only partial and temporary restoration by brandy and otherstimulants, has at once been restored by oxygen in large doses. She lives by exercisinggreat care and avoiding physical exertion, to a certain extent enjoys life, yet cannot do formore than a few days successively without the renovation afforded by the gas. . .


ESSAY ON MEDICAL PNEUMATOLOGY: A PHYSIOLOGICAL, CLINICAL ANDTHERAPEUTIC INVESTIGATION OF THE GASES, by J. N. Demarquay. Translated and published 1889, with notes, additions, and omissions, by Samuel S. Wallian, A.M., M.D. [Demarquay was a French Physician who wrote a massive treatise on gases and inhalationtherapy, published in Paris in 1866. Wallian, the reigning expert on oxygen therapy in the U.S. in the late 19th century, published "a translation of the more pertinent portion of Demarquay's work" in book form. Wallian noted that the complete work of Demarquay consists of eight hundred and sixty-one pages, which he condensed by omitting "unessential details and prolix repetetions," and other parts of "less practical value at the present moment." Nonetheless, Wallian's translation is a 300-page book, fully indexed. Demarquay provided much detail about European use of medical oxygen in the first decades after its discovery. Quoted below is a brief passage about the situation in the 1830s, over 50 years after Priestley's discovery; to that pointmedical use of oxygen had been a resounding failure.)

by J. N. Demarquay, 1866

In leaving this period [early 19th century] it may be said that oxygen had been almostcompletely abandoned. Condemned to disuse by nearly all the authors who had had occasion to speak of it more or less directly. . .it was scarcely possible that oxygen should any longer be received in the domain of current therapeutics, and if in our time recourse has been had to this gas, it has been only under the head of remedies of last resort that ithas been employed. Thus, in 1832 several distinguished physicians attempted to administer the gas in the last stages of cholera, but without success.

For some years following, oxygen seems to have regained a degree of favor with our cousins on the other side of the Channel. Thus, within fifteen years, there have appeared in England several works treating on the medical use of this gas, without counting the isolated reports published in the journals. . .


SUPEROXYGENATION AS A THERAPEUTIC MEASURE, by Samuel S. Wallian, A.M.,M.D., Chicago Medical Journal, February and March, 1869. [I have not been able to obtain acopy of this paper. It is referenced in an 1889 book by Dr. Wallian. Writing in the third person, and referring to medical oxygen therapy,he claimed: "So far as he [Wallian] can learn, the writer contributed to the Chicago Medical Journal the first American Paper on the subject.]


ON THE THERAPEUTICAL VALUE OF THE INHALATION OF OXYGEN GAS, by Edward Mackey, M.B. LOND. ETC. Joint Professor of Materia Medica and Therapeutics in Queen's College, Birmingham. Practitioner, Vol 2, pages 276-287, 1869. [Mackey states the oxygen gas he used was "supplied to me by Barth, of London, and administered in his apparatus." Barth's 1865 work and advertisement are quoted above. Mackey presents 12 cases treated with oxygen; cases III and VI are quoted below. His observations indicate a generally unbiased assessment.]

by Edward Mackey, 1869

. . .I do not propose to treat here of the chemistry of oxygen, nor of its physiological effects, nor even of the objections which have been urged against its use -- but simply to state the facts which have come under my own observation.

Case III. Phthisis pulmonalis.--Mrs. W.--@ 31, who had lost her father and sisters of consumption, consulted me in Dec.1867. For the last six months had had cough, for the lastthree had been emaciated, and at this time had theprostration, night sweats, diarrhea, and hectic of the thirdstage of phthisis; hemoptysis had occurred several times:the expectoration was generally purulent. There wereviolent pains, especially over left chest, and examinationrevealed a fine crepitus at apex of left lung. The patientwas treated with ordinary medicines, and improved gradually. Opium in the form of an atomized spray was foundto be the best medicine for relieving cough, and procuringsleep; tincture of steel and carbolic acid used in the samemanner relieved, to a certain extent, the profuse expectoration; and although the case became complicated witha peri-uterine haematocele, in February 1868 she ralliedfrom this also.

It was July 1868 before she could walk as far as myhouse. Her principal symptoms then were debility, painsin the chest, cough, and copious muco-purulent sputum. At this point she began inhalations of oxygen in theproportion of 6 pints to 60 of air, increasing to 12 pints. She took inhalations at intervals of two days, and thenfound the above symptoms so relieved as to be able toomit all treatment for a time. She herself attributed greatbenefit to the gas, and was taking no other special medicine at the time. Since then she has borne fairly well thecares of a large family. She has gained flesh, and thoughthere is still a frequent cough, and sputum, a mucous raleabout the left apex (I examined the chest two days ago),the progress of the disease is arrested for a time at least.

* * *
CASE VI. I adduce as an instance of another variety of dyspnoea a warehouse woman of 27, who had also lost several brothers and sisters of phthisis. Had been much depressed by nursing the last one through a long and painful illness; she came to me in June 1868, with symptoms of dyspepsia and history of attacks of urgen difficulty of breathing coming on generally at a fixed hour of 9 or 10 in the morning; occasionally after later meals; she kept constantly sighig deeply, and had various symptoms of hysterical temperatment; had also cough and viscid expectoration; but a physical examination revealed nothing very definite -- perhpas puerile respiration in one lung and diminshed vesicular murmur in the other.

She was treated for some weeks with various stomachic or hysterical dyspnoea that I first administered oxygen to her, in proportion of 5 pints to 30 of air, and again in a double dose, only on three or four occasions.

It is possible that these doses were not large enough for a fair trial; but, however, I wish to record that relief was given, but it was slight and not permanent. Eventually the patient recovered under the use of bromide of potassium and quinine. She has since married, and is well.


OXYGEN. A REMEDY IN DISEASE, by George Barth, Inventor of "The Invalid'sOxygenator," Patent "Oxygen Water," &c. H. Balliere, 219, Regent Street; G. Barth, 36, LongAcre, W.C. 1870; 32 pages. [This early monograph is by a London chemist who promoted, tophysicians, a device for making oxygen. Thus, this is a promotional pamphlet, accompanied by asmall advertisement at the end. The quoted passages are from, in order: the introduction; a casereport Barth quotes from S.B. Birch (a physician who had treated cases); and the advertisement.]

by George Barth, 1870

The subjoined pages have been written to inform suffering invalids that the inhalationof oxygen gas and atmospheric air, when mixed in proper proportions, is a singularlysuccessful remedy in various diseases which are not curable by ordinary methods oftreatment, and that an instrument can be supplied which renders the application of thisremedy as simple as taking medicine from a phial or pill-box.

The idea of applying the vital element of our atmosphere to the treatment of diseases isnot a novelty, it having been introduced towards the end of the last century by Dr.Beddoes, with whom were associated Mr. Davy (afterwards Sir Humphry) and the well-known James Watt, the father of the steam-engine; one as chymical assistant, the other asmaker and designer of apparatus. Lavoisier, Priestley, Carmichael, Menzies, and manyother celebrated philosophers and physicians of that period, tried oxygen as a remedywith success; but, from the want of suitable apparatus, its application was verytroublesome, and in many instances nearly impossible. Subsequently, Drs. Daniel Hill andThornton became celebrated for the use of oxygen, which they continued until 1820, or afew years later; they both were particularly successful in making cures, and had greatnumbers of patients. When these gentlemen died, oxygen as medicine was soon nearlyforgotten; the profession either neglected, or tried it carelessly, or considered it "animpracticable remedy;" and, while the medical friend had to design and procure a suitableapparatus, and then to prepare pure oxygen gas to use with it, the remedy certainly was adifficult if not an impracticable one, in a general practice. A knowledge of the value ofoxygen inhalation as a curative agent led the writer of these few pages, twelve years since,to design an instrument, by means of which the profession might employ oxygen in theirpractice without trouble; and this invention, and his constantly inviting attention to thesubject, has principally been the means of re-introducing a most important medicinalremedy (which had been allowed to fall into disuse). . .

* * *


"Mrs. W----f, @ 46, first suffered from attacks of severe pain in the head in childhood,and excitement invariably produced one. Change of life occurred at 17, and then the headattacks became regularly periodical, and were attended with many other distressingsymptoms, obliging her to be always kept for four days in a darkened room and in arecumbent posture, every month. Medical treatment of every \possible kind (quackeryincluded) had been tried without the slightest benefit.

"Oxygen was recommended, with the hope that it might prove useful, even if incapableof curing, in so severe a caws of such long standing. The first dose, very carefully given,made the patient feel more lively and with less weight about the head. The second dose on the following day caused a special condition to recur a week before the usual time, and without any headache whatever. The result of the treatment was most surprising, the ladywas quite cured in a few weeks, and her distressing affliction has not since returned."

* * *

[ADVERTISEMENT AT END OF BARTH'S 1870 PAMPHLET - for clarity the ad is re-typed below the scanned page]
Barth ad 1870

REMOVAL -- Friends are requested to observe, that G. Barth has entirely removed from36, Long Acre, and his Laboratory is now at 26, Duke Street, Bloomsbury, W.C., four doors from New Oxford Street.
A question is frequently asked, "Is Oxygen Gas Inhalation dangerous?" the reply isdecidedly, not at all so; it can be used without any possible risk of harm, and always with areal of hope doing good.
The subject of Oxygen Inhalation is daily attracting more attention in the Profession,and a clever treatise has just been published on it by Dr. A. H. Smith, of New York.*

The price of the Oxygenator is now 6:6 [pounds], and it may be had on hire with option of purchase for 1.1 [pounds] per month.

A Third Edition of the Pamphlet will shortly be published, with several Interesting recent CASES.
Names and Addresses will be given on application, to George Barth, 26, Duke Street, Bloomsbury, W.C.
1st July 1870
*Also a Second Edition of Dr. Birch's work in 1868, price 3/6.


OXYGEN GAS AS A REMEDY IN DISEASE, by Andrew H. Smith, M.D. New York: D. Appleton & Company, 1870. [This 56-page pamphlet won the "Prize Essay of the Alumni Association of the College of Physicians and Surgeons, N.Y." Rich in detail, the pamphlet provides a brief history of oxygen therapy, a discourse on how oxygen is prepared, and a detailed description of its use in clinical medicine. Quoted are two interesting paragraphs from Dr. Smith's history section; the first one relates to the earliest clinical use of oxygen. The second one quoted is his last paragraph in the history section, in which Dr. Smith does a little speculating about the utility of oxygen for more than just individual patients.

The inside back cover of the pamphlet conains an ad for compressed oxygen gas stored in New York City, and sold for medical purposes to NY practitioners; the proprietor of the company was W.H. Wells. (Since the ad does not scan well, it is instead re-typed below.) Note that the pressure of 17 atmospheres is equal to 250 psi (pounds per square inch). The modern day oxygen cylinder holds oxygen at about 3000 psi. Since there are approximately 4 liters/gallon, 100 gallons would last about 3 hours at 2 l/min. However, the recommendation was only for "four gallons, morning and evening," equivalent to 2 l/min for 8 minutes each treatment session.]

HISTORY -- . . .The first case in which oxygen was actually employed as as remedy was one reported by Caillens, in 1783. I can find only a reference to this case, which was published in the Gazette de Sante. But, in the year following, Jurine, of Geneva, published an essay, in which he cites, at some length, a case of phthisis in a young lady, which was very much benefited by daily inhalations of oxygen. In 1789 Chaptal, of Montpellier, reported two cases of phthisis, in one of which the gas produced great relief while its use was continued, but in the other the effect was not beneficial.

. . .A new era in the history of oxygen is being inaugurated by the invention of Tessie du Motay, by means of which the gas can be produced in immense quantities from the atmosphere, and at an insignificant cost. Its possible future in relation to medicine and hygiene can as yet be only dimly discerned. When we shall be able to regulate the proportion of oxygen in the atmosphere of the sick room as easily as we now regulate the temperature; when closely packed, and ill-ventilated tenements can be supplied with this element, the free enjoyment of which is necessary to health; when by its use the contamination of the atmosphere by the furnaces of factories and machine-shops shall be prevented or counteracted, who can tell what will be the sum-total of the result? Yet all this seems now attainable whenever the public shall become sufficiently awake to its importance.

* * *



948 Broadway, near 23d St., New York,

No. 120 Joralemon Street, (Hamilton Building,), Brooklyn


The gas is contained in cylinders holding 100 and 200 gallons each, under a presure of seventeen atmospheres.

Each consumer is furnished with the necessary bag, etc., for inhaling, to be returned when no longer required.

The offices are open day and night, and during the day there will be no charge for delivering cylinders in any part of the city.

The person delivering the cylinder will give the necessary instruction as to the management of the apparatus; but the quantity to be inhaled should, as a rule, be determined by the physician. The medium quantity in most chronic cases is four gallons, morning and evening.

Dr. Andrew H. Smith's Apparatus far [sic] generating oxygen at the bed-side (as described in the foregoing essay), is available for those at a distance who cannot supply themselves with the compressed gas. Price, including extra retort, lamp, bag with stop-cock, tube, mouth-piece, etc., and one pound of the chlorate of potash mixture, $25. The apparatus is packed in a neat box for convenience of carrying.

Reliable chemicals for this purpose constantly on hand.

W.H. Wells


OXYGEN AS A REMEDIAL AGENT, by J. Henry Davenport, M.D., Harv. The BostonMedical and Surgical Journal, July 25, 1872, Vol. X, No. 4, pages 61-64. [This review article nicely describes the use of oxygen at the time by some physicians. Note that Davenport's confused classification of diseases is based solely on observation rather than pathophysiology. Also, no mention is made of oxygen need based on physiologic measurements, because none were available.]

by J. Henry Davenport, M.D. 1872

The idea of inhaling oxygen as a remedial agent is by no means a new one. It waspractised sixty or seventy years ago by Dr. Beddoes, but given up because the gas couldnot then be obtained in sufficient quantity, cheapness and purity. It was thought that theimpurities caused irritation of the lungs, and even salivation had resulted where theoxygen had been procured from the red oxide of mercury. Moreover, caoutchouc in itspresent form was then unknown to the arts, and there existed a difficulty in handling thegas which the rubber gag of to-day has entirely removed. Dr. Beddoes used small closetsand chambers which were filled with oxygen at large expense. But it was the discovery, byTessie du Motay, of a process of obtaining oxygen fro the atmosphere in almost absolutepurity, the only adulteration being the admixture of a slight proportion of nitrogen, anormal element of the atmosphere, that at once removed the objections of impurity andhigh cost. This process is so admirable for its simplicity and perfection that, like mostgreat advances in science, the wonder is that it was not discovered before. . .

. . . The diseases in which oxygen is of benefit are conveniently divided into threeclasses:

First, those involving dyspnea, which are essentially acute. The oxygen here acts onlyas a palliative, serving to bridge over chasm, and to give nature an opportunity to eroverher scattered forces. It mere prevents death from absolute suffocation arising fromimperfect aeration, or, more properly speaking, oxygenation of the blood. Examples ofthis class are the acute stages of bronchitis, Bright's disease, heart disease, uraemia,opium poisoning, and the like.

Second, those involving defective nutrition or excretion, which are essentially chronic. Oxygen here acts as a tonic, increasing the weight and strength, and visibly restoring thenatural ruddy hue of the face in health. It has in this way been found valuable in phthisis,emphysema, acute dyspepsia, anaemia, &c. In these affections, three of four gallons areinhaled daily.

Third, in certain spasmodic diseases, oxygen has an unexpected but welcome effect. It is a sedative, though an indirect one, and has been found of great use in asthma, chorea, epilepsy, and many other ailments of a convulsive nature.

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