Historical development of the anesthetic machine: from Morton to the integration of the mechanical ventilator.


Romero-Ávila P(1), Márquez-Espinós C(2), Cabrera Afonso JR(3).
Author information:
(1)Hospital Costa del Sol, Department of Anesthesiology and Resuscitation, Marbella, Spain. Electronic address: [Email]
(2)Hospital La Línea, La Linea de la Concepción, Department of Anesthesiology and Resuscitation, Cádiz, Spain.
(3)Hospital La Línea, La Linea de la Concepción, Department of Anesthesiology and Resuscitation, Cádiz, Spain; University of Cádiz, School of Medicine, Department of the History of Science, Cádiz, Spain.


The first anesthetic machines appeared following their public demonstration by Morton in 1846. These initial devices were simple inhalers based on the evaporation of the anesthetic agent. Their main problem was the loss of effectiveness with cooling. More complex inhalers were subsequently developed, in which the main difference was the possibility to provide more than one agent. Moreover, the concentration of the inhaled anesthetic was regulated for greater efficiency. At the beginning of the twentieth century, gas machines emerged, allowing the application of an anesthetic flow independent of the patient's inspiratory effort. These machines incorporated technological advances such as flow meters, carbon dioxide absorption systems and fine adjustment vaporizers. In this period, in the field of thoracic surgery, intraoperative artificial ventilation began to be employed, which helped overcome the problem of pneumothorax associated with open pleura by applying positive pressure. From the 1930s, the gas machines were fitted with a ventilator, and by the 1950s this had become a basic component of the anesthesia system. Later still, in the 1980s, alarm and monitoring systems were incorporated, giving rise to the current generation of workstations.