Great-grandparents used laughing gas for entertainment in paid shows.

Early Cincinnatians found entertainment in the unusual practice of inhaling nitrous oxide, or “laughing gas,” for a good laugh. The Western Museum, established in 1818, became a popular destination for citizens to witness demonstrations of this intoxicating gas. While the museum boasted scientific exhibits like fossils and animal specimens, it was the addition of laughing gas demonstrations that drew the largest crowds. Museum directors Robert Best and Joseph Dorfeuille quickly learned that incorporating these demonstrations into lectures on natural history increased ticket sales and audience engagement.

By 1834, the Western Museum had transitioned from laughing gas demonstrations to more theatrical attractions, such as a waxworks replica of Dante’s Inferno featuring pyrotechnic displays by a young man named Samuel Colt. Colt, later known for founding a firearms company, captivated audiences with his “Celebrated Dr. Coult” persona and entertaining nitrous oxide shows. Despite some skepticism from the press, Colt’s exhibitions were praised for their educational value and ability to engage audiences in scientific contemplation.

The true potential of nitrous oxide as an anesthetic was not realized until the 1840s when Gardner Quincy Colton, a medical school dropout turned dental entrepreneur, began promoting its use for pain relief during tooth extractions. Colton’s on-stage performances with laughing gas drew large crowds and garnered media attention for their varying effects on participants. From inducing fits of laughter to intense physical reactions, the gas showcased its psychotropic properties in a public setting.

Colton’s success with laughing gas continued into the late 19th century, as he recruited women as subjects for his demonstrations to promote his dental practice. The amusing effects of nitrous oxide were not only entertaining for audiences but also served to showcase its potential benefits in a medical setting. Despite its initial use as a source of entertainment, laughing gas eventually found its place in the medical field as a valuable anesthetic, thanks in part to pioneers like Colton who popularized its use. In the 19th century, the use of laughing gas for dental procedures was a controversial topic in Cincinnati. Reports emerged of patients experiencing erratic behavior or even death after receiving the anesthesia. One such case was that of Mrs. John Boyer, who was sent to a mental hospital after getting a tooth pulled using laughing gas. The death of Mrs. Bolum was also attributed to dental nitrous oxide, despite autopsy findings of a strangulated hernia. These incidents raised concerns about the safety and effects of the popular anesthetic.

In the midst of these alarming reports, Dr. C. proposed a new method of administering laughing gas to patients. He planned to give larger doses to several women, inducing a deep anesthetic sleep during which he would extract their teeth without their knowledge. Dr. C. believed that he had a “blessing” to offer to the citizens of Cincinnati through this method. The idea of performing dental procedures on unconscious patients without their consent raised ethical questions and added to the controversy surrounding laughing gas.

The use of laughing gas for recreational purposes also came under scrutiny, with reports of individuals becoming mildly insane from huffing the gas. The addictive and potentially dangerous nature of the substance was a cause for concern among the public. The cases of Mrs. Boyer, Mrs. Bolum, and the young woman in Glendale highlighted the risks associated with the misuse of laughing gas.

In conclusion, the history of laughing gas in 19th century Cincinnati was marked by controversy and concern over its effects. The incidents of patients experiencing adverse reactions or even death raised questions about the safety of the popular anesthetic. Dr. C.’s proposal to administer laughing gas in larger doses for dental procedures without patients’ knowledge added to the ethical dilemmas surrounding its use. The cases of individuals becoming mentally unstable from huffing laughing gas further emphasized the risks associated with its recreational use.

Key points:
1. Reports of patients experiencing erratic behavior or death after receiving laughing gas for dental procedures in 19th century Cincinnati.
2. Dr. C.’s controversial proposal to administer larger doses of laughing gas to extract teeth without patients’ knowledge.
3. Concerns over the addictive and potentially dangerous nature of laughing gas for recreational use.
4. Cases of individuals becoming mentally unstable from huffing laughing gas.
5. Ethical and safety concerns surrounding the use of laughing gas in medical and recreational settings.

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