Crawford W. Long was born in Danielsville, Georgia on Nov. 1, 1815. He received his medical degree from the University of Pennsylvania in 1839. After a brief period of studying surgery in New York hospitals, Long returned to his home state to take over a rural medical practice in Jefferson, Georgia. While in college, Long had some experience with “ether frolics” and thought there was some possibility of the development of an anesthetic to lessen or remove the extreme pain surgery patients of his time had to endure. He did not have access to the nitrous oxide that had been used in his college experiences, so he began experimenting with sulfuric ether. Careful observation showed him that patients suffered no pain when under the effects of this gas, even when severely cut or bruised. Long took the inevitable next step on March 30, 1842. His patient James M. Venable was rendered unconscious by sulfuric ether, then had a cyst removed. [See photo of reenactment.] When Venable regained consciousness, he felt no pain at all! As an interesting footnote to the operation, Long’s fee for the anesthesia and surgery was a staggering two dollars!
Over the course of the next four years, Long performed other surgeries using sulfuric ether, but he had not officially recorded his findings. Thus, as word of his success spread, others—particularly dentist William Morton—claimed to have been the first to successfully use the gas in surgery. While it is true that Morton gave the first public demonstration of anesthesia, Long eventually would be recognized as the true pioneer of surgical anesthesia. And, today, March 30—the anniversary date of Long’s first use of ether during surgery—is nationally recognized as “Doctor’s Day” and the birthday of anesthesia.
In 1850, Long moved to Athens, Georgia, where he quietly continued to practice medicine, modestly avoiding the limelight that could have been his due. Late in the Civil War, Long joined an Athens militia unit—though it was never called to active duty. Long continued to practice medicine in Athens until his death on June 16, 1878 from heart failure after just having delivered a baby.
In 1920, the General Assembly proposed and voters ratified a constitutional amendment to create a new county named in honor of Crawford Long. In 1926, Georgia placed a marble statue of Long in the National Statuary Hall Collection of the U.S. Capitol. In 1940, the U.S. Post Office Department honored Long with a commemorative stamp.