Popular Science Monthly/Volume 80/June 1912/The Progress of Science

1542682Popular Science Monthly Volume 80 June 1912 — The Progress of Science1912



On March 30, 1842, in the village of Jefferson, Georgia, Dr. Crawford W. Long administered ether to Mr. James Venable and, while he was completely anesthetized, removed a small tumor from the back of his neck. On the seventieth anniversary of the day, exercises in honor of Long were held in the Medical School of the University of Pennsylvania, from which he graduated in 1839. Addresses were made by Professor J. William White, of the University of Pennsylvania, and by Professor J. Chalmers Da Costa, of the Jefferson Medical College, and a bronze medallion designed by Professor E. Tait Mackenzie, of the University of Pennsylvania, was unveiled by one of the three daughters of Dr. Long who were present at the ceremony.

Thus somewhat late official recognition has been given at the University of Pennsylvania to one of the advances in the medical sciences, which make an epoch in their development. At the close of the second of an important series of lectures on medical research, published above. Professor Richard M. Pearce, of the University of Pennsylvania, calls attention to the new era in surgery introduced by the use of anesthetics. This not only saves immeasurable suffering, but it makes possible, and comparatively safe, operations that could not be undertaken if the patient could move and struggle. Professor Pearce does not attempt to assign credit for the discovery of anesthetics, though he properly attributes its introduction to the world to the administration of ether by Dr. W. T. G. Morton, a dentist, for an operation performed by Dr. J. C. Warren at the Massachusetts General Hospital on October 16, 1846. Like scientific progress in many other directions, the use of anesthetics has had a long history, and we must speak of various advances rather than of a single discovery. The anesthetic effects of nepenthe, mandragora and hemp were known in antiquity, and it is said that surgical operations under them were performed in the time of Pliny, in China and in the middle ages. Sir Humphry Davy in 1800 announced the discovery of the anesthetic properties of nitrous oxide, and wrote, "it may probably be used with advantage in surgical operations." Ether had been known for centuries, and in the first part of the nineteenth century its vapor and nitrous oxide gas were used for spasmodic asthma and to relieve pain. They were also used for their intoxicating effects, and it was under such conditions that Long noted their anesthetic properties.

Somewhat more than two years after the operation by Long, Dr. Horace Wells, a dentist of Hartford, Conn., had a tooth extracted while rendered insensible by nitrous oxide, and two years later, as noted above, ether was used by Dr. Morton. Dr. Wells and Dr. Morton had been in partnership, and both had been pupils of Dr. C. T. Jackson, the distinguished chemist and geologist of Boston, who in 1841 had experimented with both nitrous oxide gas and with ether, using them for the relief of pain. Morton patented ether in 1846 under the name of letheon, and a bitter controversy followed, in which Jackson, Wells and Morton were involved. Wells became insane and committed suicide. Later Jackson also became insane. Morton died from apoplexy,
Bronze Medallion in Memory of Crawford W. Long.

it is said while enraged at the attempts made to deprive him of the credit of the discovery. Long took no part in these controversies, but in 1849 presented a statement to the Medical Society of Georgia, with affidavits in regard to the use of ether in 1842, followed by seven or eight surgical operations before Morton's success in introducing anesthetics everywhere. The question of priority is thus much involved, but it appears evident that Long first used ether for surgical purposes, though, as a country practitioner, he had no means of making public his discovery and perhaps did not fully realize its importance. It seems, at all events, that the use of anesthetics in surgery is one of the great advances in science which may fairly be attributed to the United States.


The American Philosophical Society, founded in Philadelphia by Franklin for the promotion of useful knowledge, is the oldest of our scientific societies and at the same time appears to be the most vigorous of those that cover the whole range of the sciences. The meeting held in Philadelphia at the end of April was quite notable for the number and value of the communications. They not only gave reports of important original investigations by the authors, but were in most cases presented in a manner comprehensible and interesting to those who are not specialists. It is of course impossible to give an abstract in two or three paragraphs of nearly
The Late John Bernhardt Smith,

Professor of Entomology at Rutgers College and State Entomologist of New Jersey.

fifty papers, but a statement of some of the subjects may be of interest as showing the directions in which research work is now being conducted.

At the first session, papers were presented bearing on historical, political and philological subjects, for the Philosophical Society includes these also in its scope. This aspect of its work was indeed emphasized at the recent meeting, as the Henry M. Phillips prize of $2,000 was conferred on Charles H. Burr, Esq., for an essay on the treaty making power of the United States, and at the dinner, the principal address was made by Professor Moore, who in the usual eulogy of Franklin spoke of his work in diplomacy.

On the second day, the session opened with two papers on the inheritance of feeble-mindedness and epilepsy, by Dr. Goddard and Dr. Weeks, who have obtained results of scientific and practical importance. Dr. Stockard described for the first time experiments on the control of embryonic development, showing that when guinea-pigs are alcoholized, the offspring are greatly affected, and this irrespective of whether it is the male or the female that has been given alcohol. If these experiments are confirmed, it appears that the paternal germ cells may be affected so as to be incapable of producing normal offspring. Dr. Rouse gave an account of his successful attempts to isolate the active agent which produces sarcoma in chickens, which may prove a step forward in the explanation of the cause of cancer. Dr. Vaughan explained how he had split up the protein molecule and obtained a highly poisonous body, Dr. Russell the methods he had used to produce immunity to typhoid fever, and Dr. Carrel the experiments by which he had kept the heart muscle alive outside the body. Papers on botany were presented by Professor Farlow and Dr. Trelease; on paleontology, by Professor Scott and Dr. Walcott; on exploration and discovery by Professor Bingham and General Greely.

The papers in the exact sciences were as important as those in the natural sciences, and were fully as interesting, in spite of the greater difficulty of presenting such subjects before a general audience. Professor Wood gave the evening lecture before the reception, his subject being "The study of nature by invisible light." The lecture was elaborately illustrated and included his curious and beautiful photographs taken with ultra-red light. In a more technical paper. Professor Wood showed the selective reflection of gas molecules, which he has photographed. Professor Webster described his method of measuring the sound transmitted through walls; Professor Magie, the thermal relations of solutions; Dr. Day, the measurement of temperatures up to 750 degrees C, and Dr. Bauer, the results of the magnetic observations made on the yacht Carnegie. In astronomy, there was a symposium on stellar spectroscopy. Dr. Campbell explained the work which has been done, largely at the Lick Observatory, on radial velocity; Dr. Pickering, the important work of the Harvard Observatory on photographing the spectra of the stars. Papers of equal importance in chemistry and in other sciences were presented. Altogether they represent a group of contributions to science which will compare favorably with any that could at the present time be presented before any society in any country.


The Census Bureau has given out a preliminary statement of the distribution of the foreign-born population of New York in 1910. The numbers are about 2,700,000 in the state and about 1,900,000 in the city of New York, approaching in the latter case one half of the total population, and far exceeding this, if the native children born to foreign parents are included. In both New England and the middle states considerably more than half the population is of foreign parentage and the proportion is increasing with great rapidity. The distribution of the foreign-born population is of special interest. It is well known that the Russians, Italians and Austrians have been increasing far more rapidly than the Germans and Irish, but the actual figures are truly surprising. In 1850 forty-three per cent, of the foreign-born population of the United States was Irish, fourteen per cent. English, three per cent. Scotch, twenty-six per cent. German, seven per cent. Canadian, leaving only seven per cent, from all other nations. In 1900 the percentage of Germans had remained about the same, the percentage of Irish had decreased by about sixteen, and the influx from Russia, Italy and Austria Hungary had become noticeable. In the figures now given out for New York City, we find that there are 45,000 fewer Germans and 22,500 fewer Irish than there were ten years ago. On the other hand, the Italian population shows an increase of nearly 200,000, being now 340,000. New York City is now an Italian city nearly as large as Rome and bids fair to exceed it in the course of the coming decennium. The Austria-Hungarian population has more than doubled, having increased from about 120,000 to 267,000. Greatest of all is the Russian increase, from 180,000 in 1890 to 484,000 in 1910. A citizen of New York City on being asked whether there was a foreign quarter in the city replied that there was a foreign three-quarters; and this is not far from correct.


We record with regret the death of Dr. Paul C. Freer, director of the U. S. Government Scientific Bureau in the Philippines, and distinguished for his work in chemistry; of the Rev. George William Knox, professor of philosophy and the history of religion in the Union Theological Seminary, and of Miss Nettie M. Stevens, associate in experimental morphology in Bryn Mawr College.

Dr. John Grier Hibben, previously Stuart professor of philosophy, has been installed as president of Princeton University.—Commemoration day will be observed by the University of Glasgow on June 25, when Professor F. O. Bower, F.R.S., will deliver an oration on "Sir Joseph Hooker."—The Aero Club of Washington has held a field day in commemoration of the anniversary of Secretary Langley's first aerodrome flight on May 6, 1896.—The letters of the late Professor William James are being collected for biographical purposes. Those who have such letters are requested to communicate with Mr. Henry James, Jr., 95 Irving Street, Cambridge, Mass.

At the meeting of the National Academy of Sciences, held in Washington on April 18, new members were elected as follows: R. W. Wood, professor of experimental physics at the Johns Hopkins University; Harry Fielding Reid, professor of geological physics at the Johns Hopkins University; David White, geologist, U. S. Geological Survey; Roland Thaxter, professor of cryptogamic botany at Harvard University; Chas. B. Davenport, director of the Station for Experimental Evolution, Cold Spring Harbor, N. Y.; W. M. Wheeler, professor of economic entomology at Harvard University; John J. Abel, professor of pharmacology at the Johns Hopkins University; S. J. Meltzer, head of the department of physiology and pharmacology of the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research.