People Worth Remembering


Where would the world be without the extraordinary efforts of Sir Alexander Fleming? This week, Tidbits delves into the life story of the man who discovered penicillin.

•   Although born to humble Scottish farmers in 1881, Alexander Fleming had high aspirations of becoming a doctor. His academic promise was noted when he was just 11 years old and he received a scholarship to Scotland’s Kilmarnock Academy. At age 20, he entered medical school hoping to become a surgeon. However, he was convinced by a noted British immunologist, Almroth Wright, to concentrate his efforts in bacteriology, and received the University of London’s 1908 gold medal for top medical student. He became a lecturer at the school until 1914.

•  When World War I broke out in 1914, the 33-year-old Fleming joined up to serve in the Royal Army Medical Corps. While working in field hospitals, he noted many soldiers dying from infected wounds, even though the wounds had been cleansed with antiseptic agents. He improvised a lab in the field to study infection, and demonstrated that the antiseptics such as carbolic acid, boric acid, and hydrogen peroxide, could not kill bacteria deep in the wound, were only effective in treating superficial injuries, and were in fact doing more harm than good.  In addition, the antiseptics were diminishing the body’s natural resistance and immunity by killing white blood cells.He devised a system of cleaning wounds with saline that proved effective.

•   Following the war, Fleming returned to the university, working tirelessly in the field of bacteriology. In 1928, he took a much-needed month-long vacation from his work on the influenza virus. When he returned to the lab, he found he had left out a Petri dish of Staphylococcus culture, and it had become contaminated with a mold. Upon a closer look, he noted that the colonies of bacteria surrounding the fungus had been killed.

•  Determining that the mold was part of the Penicillium genus, Fleming dedicated himself to growing more of the fungus that produced a bacteria-killing substance. He first dubbed it “mold juice,” but renamed his antibiotic penicillin. Results of his work were published, after his research demonstrated that penicillin killed the bacteria responsible for scarlet fever, pneumonia, meningitis, and diphtheria.

•   Yet Fleming faced the difficulty of isolating penicillin from the fungus and producing it in high concentrations. He lacked the funding and the facilities to continue his research. In 1940, a team of scientists from the University of Oxford followed up on Fleming’s discovery from 12 years earlier, and  isolated and purified penicillin. Led by pathologist Howard Florey and biochemist Ernst Chain, they were able to produce penicillin in large, concentrated quantities after developing a system of growing it. By 1943, it was being mass-produced. The antibiotic was widely used during World War II on the battlefield, transforming the control of infection, with the U.S. Army administering an estimated two million doses per month.

• The United Kingdom’s King George VI knighted Fleming for his research in 1944, and Fleming became Sir Alexander Fleming.

•  In 1945, the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded jointly to Fleming and the two Oxford researchers, Florey and Chain “for the discovery of penicillin and its curative effect in various infectious diseases. In his acceptance speech, Fleming stated, “I had a clue that here was something good, but I could not possibly know how good it was.”


•  Abraham Lincoln loved three other women before he married Mary Todd.  As a child he loved Nancy Hanks, who gave him life and nine years of mothering. As a youth he loved Sarah Bush Lincoln, who raised him and encouraged his intellect.  And as a young adult he loved Ann Rutledge, who sickened and died before the two could wed.

• Ann Rutledge was a Kentucky lass, born January 7, 1813.  In her teens she moved to Illinois with her father who transported the family to a place north of Springfield; there he co-founded a village called New Salem.  The main Rutledge enterprise was a tavern, a hewn-log building with four rooms below for food and drink, and sleeping space above.

• Over the years Ann bloomed into a pretty young thing with blue eyes and reddish-blond hair.  She was cheerful and studious, hard-working and kind.

• Ann Rutledge was admired by all.  In particular, she was courted by John McNamar. The two agreed to marry, though no date was set.

• At the time, McNamar was going by the name of John McNeil.  He claimed he did not want his family to know his whereabouts.  He said he had moved from rural New York to New Salem, where he was hoping to make a fortune.  But until his wealth was won, he explained, he would live under a false name.

• Early in August of 1832 McNamar, without saying a word, left New Salem to return to New York state.  For a long while he stayed out of touch with Ann; during three years he did not write her even one time. The question of why he abandoned her was never answered.

• Meanwhile, Abraham Lincoln, boarding in the Rutledge Tavern the winter of 1832-33, was smitten by Ann, and she was enamored of him. This budding romance troubled Ann.  She felt honor-bound to wait to hear from McNamar, for she needed to tell him she could not now be his bride.  In fact, she and Abe were making their own wedding plans. 

•  Tragically, the summer of 1835 in central Illinois was one of the hottest and wettest known.  For weeks it rained; water stood everywhere.  In early August people in and near New Salem began getting sick.  The local doctors ran ragged calling on the ill.  Ann herself came down with what everyone called “brain fever” – most likely typhoid.

• In spite of the physician’s treatments, and quite aware of Abraham sitting at her bedside, Ann died.  She was buried in the Concord Cemetery north of town.

• Lincoln was beside himself with grief.  He rambled aimlessly through the woods and spent afternoons mourning beside Ann’s fresh-dug grave. And when September rains fell, he could hardly abide the thought of storms dousing that raw mound.

• Lincoln continued to brood.  Already moody by nature, the sorrowing Lincoln went almost insane.  Close friends kept close watch, making sure he would not come to self-inflicted harm.

• Eventually, Lincoln struggled through his despair.  Two years later he moved into Springfield and opened a law office.  In 1842 he married Mary Todd.  They shared a long relationship and produced four sons.

•  Still, Abraham Lincoln had deeply loved Ann Rutledge.  It was a first love, a love that Lincoln in that very same way would never know again.


Who hasn’t heard of Chanel No. 5? But how much do you know about the woman behind the scent? Follow along as Tidbits aims the spotlight at Coco Chanel.

•   It might seem that world-renowned fashion designer Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel led an elegant, privileged life, but her beginnings were very humble. She was born in a French village in 1883 to a street peddler father and a laundress mother, one of six children. Her 32-year-old mother died when Gabrielle was 11, and her father, overwhelmed and unable to provide for the family, placed her and her two sisters in an orphanage operated by Catholic nuns. They never saw their father again.

•  During her six years in the orphanage, Coco was taught to sew, a skill that shaped the rest of her life. When she left the institution, she found employment as a seamstress and milliner, with a side job as a nightclub singer, where she earned the nickname Coco.

•  In 1921, Chanel branched out into perfumery, introducing the legendary Chanel No. 5. Wanting to create perfume that represented “a real woman,” scents of floral and woods were blended and named after the fifth sample that was presented to her. The following year, Chanel No. 22, a variation of No. 5 was launched.

•  When Coco was 27, her current love interest financed her first shop in Paris. Another boutique followed three years later. In 1923, the Chanel tweed suit was introduced, a jacket and skirt in light wool, with a jersey or silk blouse. Her aim was to make clothes that were more comfortable for women.

•  Perhaps Chanel’s most famous creation was the “little black dress,” which she debuted in 1926. It was a simple yet sophisticated straight, long-sleeved, drop-waist, calf-length sheath dress of crepe de chine. It was worn with a string of pearls. Vogue magazine declared that the dress would become “a sort of uniform for all women of taste,” describing it as “the frock that all the world will wear.” Chanel produced it in wool and chenille for daytime wear, and elegant dresses in satin, crepe, and velvet for the evening. Chanel’s style was to keep the dress simple, but pair it with the perfect accessories to “dress it up” or “dress it down.”

•   By 1927, Coco Chanel owned five properties on the exclusive fashion district’s Rue Cambon, property that the company still occupies. Coco had a lavish apartment on the second floor of one of the 18th-century buildings, filled with luxurious furnishings, objects from ancient Greece, Egypt, China, and Italy. Yet she never slept there. She chose to reside in a suite at the Ritz Hotel for 34 years, walking back and forth each day. She used the apartment “to work, read, daydream, rest, lunch and entertain.” It was Coco’s habit to notify the staff of her arrival time in order to have all the rooms spritzed with No. 5 perfume.

•  By 1935, Chanel’s company had more than 4,000 employees. But with the outbreak of World War II, she shut down her business, firing the workers, and closing the stores. Post-War, she left Paris for a self-imposed exile in Switzerland and at her country house in the French Riviera.

• In 1954, after her couture house had been closed for 15 years, at age 70, Chanel re-entered the fashion world, launching a comeback collection of new designs.  •  Coco Chanel was 87 years old when she died in 1971. Today, the company produces 137 different perfumes. Chanel Grand Extrait sells for $4,200 per ounce.


• In the year 1793 Eli Whitney patented the cotton gin. Whitney’s contributions to technology went far beyond constructing that simple machine, for he later helped birth the Industrial Revolution in America.

• Born in 1765 in Massachusetts, Whitney was a born entrepreneur, for even as a youth he spent long hours bent over the forge, drawing out slivers of iron into hatpins to sell for a handsome profit.

• Not content to tinker all his life, though, Whitney graduated from Yale and then took a job as tutor to a family in Charleston, South Carolina. Passing through the impoverished South, Whitney heard about the hassle in cleaning cotton, a crop that had recently been introduced there;  the seeds had to be plucked from the fiber by hand, which required many workers and took many hours.

• Whitney began thinking big:  “I went to Philadelphia to make myself acquainted with the steps to obtain a Patent.”

• Whitney’s brainchild was a simple gimmick – a roller with teeth, and a holder with slots – which could quickly claw seeds from bolls.  Eventually the gin was enlarged and hitched up to several types of energy:  horses on treadmills, water wheels, and steam.

• The genius of his invention was that every cotton gin was identical, and when parts wore out, instead of replacing the entire machine, it only required that the worn-out part be replaced. He was the first person to make interchangeable parts a part of the design.

• Patent in hand, Whitney began leasing the gins throughout the South.  But Georgia plantation owners disliked paying him leasing fees.  They resented that anyone else might make money from their crops, even though they themselves were meanwhile amassing riches on the backs of their slaves.

• To circumvent leasing costs, farmers stole Whitney’s designs, created their own crude machines, and spread lies that Whitney had not invented the device in the first place. Determined to protect his property rights, Whitney filed a spate of lawsuit -- more than 60 in Georgia alone.

• As if combating those scoundrels was not grief enough, Whitney’s Connecticut factory, including all his hand-made tools, was totaled by a fire.  He rebuilt, and then for more than ten years successfully battled his cases through the courts.

• Once the litigations were settled, Whitney turned his genius to the manufacture of rifles.  Political tensions overseas were brewing then between the United States and both the British and French governments, two nations which had been America’s chief sources of weapons. With his customary self-confidence, Whitney proposed to provide the United States government 15,000 stands of arms.  In view of the storm clouds then gathering in Europe, a nervous Congress agreed.

• As he had done earlier in producing cotton gins, Whitney now applied his technique of interchangeable parts to the making of muskets. Before the contract was signed, though, Federal inspectors randomly assembled from a tableful of scattered parts several sample guns and fired all of them with success.  President Jefferson advanced Whitney’s cause through Congress, and the weapons were finally made and paid for.

• Within the years of Whitney’s lifetime the cotton crop in America had increased a thousand-fold and more;  but beyond 1825 the growth in cotton production was far greater than that.  Even more important than the gin itself, though, was his discovery that any mechanical device could be made uniformly, thus paving the way for modern industry’s assembly lines.


Although once touted as “the most beautiful woman in the world,” actress Hedy Lamarr was much more than a pretty face. This week, Tidbits turns its attention to some of her other accomplishments.

•   If you’re an old film buff, you’ll recognize the name of Hedy Lamarr, who was at the top of the box office during the 1930’s and 1940’s. Born in Vienna, Austria, in 1914, Hedwig Eva Marie Kiesler was fascinated with film and theater and made it her goal to be an actress at a very young age. She won a beauty contest at the tender age of 12 and landed a film role in Germany at 18.

•  She caught the eye of Fritz Mandel, a wealthy 33-year-old from a family who was known for its arms manufacturing. Hedy married him in 1933, but soon learned he was a Nazi arms dealer with ties to Mussolini and Hitler. She discovered he was a controlling and jealous man who prevented her from pursuing her acting career, keeping her at home and out of the limelight. Hedy accompanied Mandel to several business meetings with diplomats, scientists, and German leaders, where she paid close attention to military technology and applied science.

•   After four years of Mandl’s oppression, Hedy devised a plan to escape. The couple attended a lavish dinner party, where she wore every piece of jewelry she owned, worth a small fortune. A packed bag contained her furs. Slipping out of the back door of the restaurant, she fled to London.

•  Fortunately for Hedy, Louis B. Mayer, the head of MGM Studios in Hollywood happened to be in London, ready to set sail for home. Hedy booked passage on the same ship. Mayer, familiar with her four German films, agreed to bring her to Hollywood, changed her name from Hedwig Kiesler to Hedy Lamarr, and began publicizing her as the “world’s most beautiful woman.”

•  Her first film role in America came along six months later in 1938. She had starred in 11 films by 1942. (She went on to star in 19 more.)

•   In her spare time, Hedy loved tinkering with gadgets and inventions. Recalling the knowledge she had obtained from eavesdropping on her husband’s meetings, she conceived the idea of creating a communications system that couldn’t be infiltrated by the enemy. She teamed up with a musician and composer named George Antheil to create a system that would change radio frequencies and prevent enemy ships from interfering with the U.S. Navy’s radio-controlled torpedo guidance signals. The method was called “frequency hopping.”

•  Lamarr and Antheil received a patent for their invention in 1942 and offered it to the Navy for free. As brilliant as the system was, the Navy said they weren’t interested, and told Lamarr that, with her beautiful face, she would be more useful selling war bonds. Some years later, the Navy did use another of Lamarr’s inventions, which could detect submarines in the water.

•  But it was decades before the importance of the frequency hopping invention was recognized. The technology behind their “spread spectrum technology” was the basis for today’s wireless communications systems, including cell phones, Bluetooth, GPS, and WiFi.

•  Finally in 1997, three years before Hedy Lamarr’s death, she was finally recognized and given credit for her invention. Sadly, Antheil had already died and didn’t live to see the many accolades and awards received for his contribution.

•  It was Hedy’s goal to live to see the new millennium, which she accomplished, passing away 19 days into 2000 at age 86.


• How many people recognize the name Sarah Josepha Hale?  Only a few.  How many are familiar with "Godey's Lady's Book?"  Nearly none.  How many realize that Thanksgiving is a national holiday?  Nearly all.

• A common thread ties together those three questions:  it was Sarah Josepha Hale, longtime editor of Godey's Lady's Book, who by 1863 had almost single-handedly convinced President Lincoln to proclaim Thanksgiving as a nationwide observance.

• Born in New Hampshire in 1788, Sarah was schooled at her mother's knee.  In 1813 she married David Hale.  The couple were happy as their five children came along.  But in 1822, after a brief illness, David died, leaving Sarah on her own.  For a while she did sewing and millinery; but that neither satisfied her intellectually nor paid her bills.

• After the publication of some of her poems, she wrote "Northwood," the first-ever novel by an American woman.  It was also the first novel in America to deal with slavery.

• The success of that volume prompted Sarah to produce her own periodical, "Ladies Magazine," the first in the United States devoted exclusively to the interests of women.  In the initial 1828 issue she assured the husbands and fathers of her prospective readers that well-informed females would become rational companions and agreeable friends.  "My work," she promised, "will mark the progress of female improvement."

• In 1837, attracted by Sarah's commitment and journalistic skills in her own magazine, Louis Godey, publisher of "Godey's Lady's Book," engaged her to edit his emerging magazine instead.  The two agreed to include only original writings, instead of following the traditional practice of borrowing material from other publications.

• Furthermore, Sarah decreed writers would be paid liberally for their efforts.  Ultimately Sarah opened her pages to authors such as Longfellow, Lowell, Holmes, Emerson, Bryant, Whittier and Poe.

• Godey's magazine quickly became the last word in women's fashions and intellect.  Its color plates depicting women's attire were hand-painted by 150 women employed in their homes.  "Godey's Lady's Book" quickly outdistanced its rivals, at its height circulating monthly some 150,000 copies to all the best homes in America.

• Sarah's campaign to make Thanksgiving an event uniformly observed nationwide took much longer than some of her other efforts.  In fact, for 17 years she wrote of the need; and she penned thousands of letters to prominent citizens in support of her crusade.  Finally success arrived:  in 1863 Lincoln proclaimed Thanksgiving a national celebration.  And such it has remained ever since.

• Sarah Hale worked at her desk until she passed the age of 90.  But on April 3, 1879 she died.  Shortly before that date she had issued one last challenge to her readership -- and to all citizens since:  "Rouse all your energies for the work that is before you.  In a country and age of such mighty privileges it requires warm hearts, strong minds, and liberal hands to devise, and dare, and do." Sarah Hale championed the rights of the downtrodden until her dying day. •           Today, of course, while Thanksgiving is hugely observed, Sarah Josepha Hale and Godey's Lady's Book are largely forgotten.  But on the tongue of most of us lingers one small piece of her writings:  her children's poem, which begins, "Mary had a little lamb, its fleece was white as snow."  If nothing else of Sarah's work, her verse we're sure to know.


•  July 4, 1826, dawned as a very special day in the life of America; the date signified, of course, the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.  In Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, it was the day that Stephen Collins Foster was born. From a very early age, little Stephen demonstrated a talent for music, plinking away at the family piano. When the Foster family moved to Ohio aboard a steamboat, Stephen became enamored of the folk songs sung by the deck hands.

•  Unimpressed with Stephen’s endless tune-tinkering, his father warned him that music-making would never provide him income sufficient to support a family.   But in spite of this, Foster, now grown, began composing for troupes of black-face minstrels who seasonally visited every port of call along the inland waterways. E. P. Christy, a well-known impresario of these white troubadours, commissioned several early Foster works, and cleverly conned the innocent composer out of his copyrights.  Still, the two men were to collaborate for several years.

•  That Stephen Foster’s catchy tunes quickly caught the nation’s ear is confirmed by a New York newspaper, which groused about his everywhere-present songs that were warbled, hummed, and sung nearly everywhere. His tunes include well-known songs such as “Old Folks at Home” “Way Down Upon the Swanee River” “Camptown Races” “My Old Kentucky Home” “Old Susanna”  “Nelly Bly” “Old Black Joe” and hundreds of others that have since faded into obscurity.

•  In the summer of 1850 Foster married Jane McDowell, soon to be immortalized as “I Dream of Jeannie With the Light Brown Hair.”  They produced a daughter, their sole offspring.  But shortly afterwards, he left his wife and child, choosing to pursue his musical calling in New York City.

•  Although Foster’s fame peaked during the 1850’s with single published song sheets sometimes selling more than 100,000 copies each, as the Civil War erupted and worsened, so did his luck.  He often sold rights to his songs for a pittance, wasting even that paltry income on drink.  Nothing he now wrote seemed to capture anyone’s fancy, for his public was caught up in the horrors of war, and military marches and stirring patriotic songs became the rage.

•  One late night in 1864 a policeman patrolling the streets off Broadway heard groans from the rude cellar where Foster dwelt, and found Foster lying on the floor, bleeding at the neck.  He had apparently fallen, shattering a glass pitcher and gashing himself in the throat.  Although he was transported to the hospital, Foster died within hours. At the moment of his death he had 38 cents in his possession – one penny for each year of his life.  In his trousers pocket was a scrap of paper with a simple fragment written on it:  “Dear friends and gentle hearts.....”

•  Foster’s death was as his birth had been – unnoted and unsung.  But during his brief career he had, for a time, actually made a modest living with his craft – one of the first Americans to do so.  More than 200 of his songs appeared in print.  He was among the first composers to depict black persons as experiencing genuine pain, sorrow, love, and joy.  He wrote about the masses and he wrote for popular enjoyment.  His work fostered the mid-century interest in parlor singing, and his easy pieces were readily performed on newly-affordable musical instruments.

•  In sum, Stephen Collins Foster did much to make music a shared national experience.  Fortunately for his times and ours, he was a “Beautiful Dreamer” even when “hard times came knocking at his door.”


Although his name might not be familiar, the accomplishments of Tenzing Norgay are well known. This week, Tidbits offers the story of this Sherpa mountaineer who was one of the first two documented people to reach the summit of Mount Everest.

•   Norgay was born in northeastern Nepal, the son of a Tibetan yak herder. Although he started life with the name of Namgyal Wangdi, the founder of a nearby monastery advised his parents to change the name to Tenzing Norgay which translates as “wealthy, fortunate follower of religion” He ran away from home twice as a teenager, and was once sent to a Buddhist monastery to become a monk. Norgay abandoned the monastery to settle in the Sherpa community, a Tibetan ethnic group native to the Himalayas’ most mountainous regions.

•   In 1935, at age 20, Norgay participated in his first Everest expedition. He took part in several more unsuccessful ascents throughout the 1930’s and 1940’s, including as a guide in an illegal attempt by a Canadian mountaineer in 1947, one that ended when a powerful storm hit the group at 22,000 feet, forcing the group of three to turn around.

•  In 1949, Nepal opened its borders to tourists and mountaineers and the conquest of Mt. Everest became the goal of numerous expeditions. Norgay was part of a 1952 Swiss expedition that reached 28,210 feet, just 825 feet shy of the summit of 29,035 feet ), but was forced to turn back due to lack of supplies.

•  By the time a large British expedition was organized in 1953, Norgay had been on six Everest treks.  Headed by British Army Colonel John Hunt, the crew had a total of more than 400 people, which included 362 porters and 20 Sherpa guides, including Norgay, and 10,000 lbs. of baggage.

• Veteran climber Edmund Hillary of New Zealand was a member of Hunt’s crew. A beekeeper during the off-season, Hillary had been saved by Norgay from a fall into a crevasse on a previous expedition. As a result, Norgay was Hillary’s climbing partner of choice for the 1953 party.

•   The group spent the night of May 28, 1953 at 27,900 feet. On the following morning, when Hillary and Norgay were just below the summit, Hillary threw down a rope to Norgay, and at about 11:30 A.M., the pair arrived at the world’s highest point, the first documented humans to do so.

• The two men spent just 15 minutes at the summit. Norgay said a prayer, made an offering, and planted four flags, one for Britain, Nepal, India, and the United Nations.  Because Norgay had never used a camera, Hillary took a photo of him holding his ice-axe. There was no photo of Hillary.

•  When questions arose as to who was the first to step foot on the top, Colonel Hunt declared, “They reached it together, as a team.” Later that year, Hillary and Hunt were knighted by the Queen Elizabeth II. Because Norgay was not a British citizen, he only received the honorary British Empire Medal.

•  Tenzing Norgay spoke several languages, but could neither read nor write. Following his Everest achievement, he became the first Director of Field Training of the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute. In 1975, he had the honor of serving as the guide for the first American tourist party allowed into the country. Shortly afterward, he founded Tenzing Norgay Adventures, specializing in Himalayan trekking adventures. •  In 1996, Norgay’s son Jamling followed in his father’s footsteps by reaching the summit of Everest. In 2003, Jamling teamed up with Edmund Hillary’s son Peter to climb Everest on the 50th anniversary of their fathers’ achievement.


• Throughout most of human history surgical procedures were performed only at the cost of incredible pain.  It was only in 1846 that effective anesthesia came into use. Until then pain relief was chancy at best, and it came in shots of whiskey or doses of opium or drafts of wine laced with hemp seed.  Sometimes partial unconsciousness was attained through hypnotism, or by inhaling either carbon dioxide or nitrous gas.  All these means were inadequate, though, and the terror that surgical patients faced was stark.

• William Morton’s quest for an effective alternative began in 1843, when he arrived in Boston to set up a dental practice.  In those days dentistry was primitive. Hoping to ease his clients’ suffering, Morton enrolled at Harvard College to train as a physician.  His tuition allowed him access to the surgical arena at the Massachusetts General Hospital, frequented by America’s top surgeons.

• As he continued his search for a pain reliever, Morton asked Charles Jackson, an eminent chemist, to write down the composition of sulfurous ether.  Jackson gave Morton information sufficient to enable Morton to use ether in his experimentation.  Morton tried it first on his pet spaniel, and then on himself. 

• Exhilarated by his success, he advertised for more dental patients.  Within two weeks he had successfully etherized 100 of them.  With each application of the anesthetic, Morton honed his skill until he convinced John Warren, premier surgeon of the day, to try ether in a surgical operation.

• On October 16, 1846, a patient, Gilbert Abbott, was wheeled into the hospital’s amphitheater to have a neck tumor removed, which was successfully accomplished without any pain.

•  The achievement was widely reported.  Unhappily for Morton, however widely his pain-free procedure would be used, his own trouble had just begun:  as soon as his discovery was publicized, fraudulent claimants emerged, the most notorious being Charles Jackson’s, whose small advice earlier had been only incidental to Morton’s work. Jackson’s threats of blackmail over trumped-up Morton indiscretions, along with lawsuits regarding financial rights, eventually forced Morton to grant Jackson public title of “co-discoverer,”  as well as a healthy (though undeserved) share of the profits that would thereafter come. That fuss and fury not only cost Morton a fortune in legal fees, but it also long delayed the international recognition that was rightly his alone.

• Sadly, Morton’s problems continued to mount:  first, his efforts to patent his process raised the hackles of doctors who would now be required to pay him licensing fees.  Then, too due to unskilled application of ether beyond Morton’s immediate control, several patients died under the knife, and their survivors sued the hapless inventor.  Furthermore, Federal bureaucrats denied him the payment that was due him for providing ether to the Navy Department.

• Dismayed and deep in debt, Morton sold his dental practice, auctioned off his house, and moved to the countryside.

• By 1864 the Civil War had come to its most grim phase.  Even though Morton’s health had begun to fail, his resolve spurred him to volunteer for the Union medical corps. His expertise as an anesthetist was literally lifesaving during the thousands of amputations that were conducted under horrific conditions.

• In 1868 Morton died of pulmonary failure in New York City.  He was only 48 years old.

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