W Harry Archer's collection of Horace Wells letters are still available. A commentary on a new publication

J. A. W. Wildsmith (Lead / Corresponding author)

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The definitive account of the life and work of Horace Wells, the dentist from Hartford, Connecticut, who experimented with nitrous oxide anesthesia in 1844, is that published by W Harry Archer for the centenary of Wells's work. A major source of original material was a collection of letters, by Wells and others, that Archer found in the house in Hartford, Vermont, in which Wells was born. In later support for Wells being better recognized for his role in the introduction of general anaesthesia, Richard J Wolfe and Leonard F Menczer published a collection of essays in 1994. However, their preparation was hampered by their (mis)understanding that the ‘Archer’ letters (which were lodged in the Pittsburgh University Library) were “missing”, a belief which continued, but has been disproved by a new author. Before his death, John Bunker encouraged his anthropologist daughter, Emily, to continue a project he had been planning on the history of anesthesia, and the result is a new book, “Horace and Elizabeth: Love and Death and Painless Dentistry”. First and foremost Ms Bunker has discovered that the Archer Letters are very much available, and has been greatly helped by the University of Pittsburgh Library in producing her book. She has used reproductions and transcriptions of the letters (some previously unpublished) and other contemporary documents to illustrate Wells's role in the great discovery. Some of the material, especially from before the ‘Colton’ demonstration of 1844 is remarkable; it is almost like hearing the story from Wells himself.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5-7
Number of pages3
JournalJournal of Anesthesia History
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 21 Dec 2020


  • Horace wells
  • Nitrous oxide
  • W Harry Archer collection of letters

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine
  • History and Philosophy of Science


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