Celebrating 24 Years on the Web
Find science on or your birthday

Today in Science History - Quickie Quiz
Who said: “Nature does nothing in vain when less will serve; for Nature is pleased with simplicity and affects not the pomp of superfluous causes.”
more quiz questions >>
Thumbnail of Gardner Quincy Colton (source)
Gardner Quincy Colton
(7 Feb 1814 - 9 Aug 1898)

American lecturer who was the first to administer nitrous oxide as an anaesthetic. He gave scientific lectures, and his exhibited nitrous oxide gas. Later, he started The Colton Dental Association of New York, where dentists successfully used it as an anaesthetic.

Early Electric Railways

From The Electrical Review (1893)

[This article describes briefly Gardner Quincy Colton's early involvement in his invention of a model railway using a metallic track in the circuit to supply electricity to the locomotive's motor. Certainly he was a man of diverse interests, because his later main claim to fame was popularizing nitrous oxide (“laughing gas”) as a dental anaesthetic. He was also a Shakesperean scholar.]

Gardner Quincy Colton
Gardner Quincy Colton (source)

We have it on the authority of the New York Electrical Engineer, that the first to use the metallic track, or rails, as the supply circuit in an electric railway, at any rate in America, was Mr. Gardner Quincy Colton, who exhibited a model railway in 1847. In the earlier part of his career Mr. Colton was a peripatetic philosopher, and the model electric railway was part of his stock-in-trade. Similar models, but on the old system, were made by Mr. Davenport and were exhibited in New York, probably in the year 1837. Ten years later Mr. Moses G. Farmer designed his electric locomotive; and in 1851 Mr. Thomas Hall was the possessor of a model built on the Colton system. Colton was in the field four years before Hall. His locomotive was built by a model maker whose name was Lilly. It was quite a small locomotive, being only 14 inches long and 5 inches wide, and was propelled by a "vibrating" motor supplied with current from four cells, via the rails. Behind were four cars of about the same size as the locomotive. The track consisted of a wooden ring, or felly, about 8 feet in diameter. The two rails were formed by thin bands of iron, fastened, one upon the exterior ring of the felly, and one upon the interior, both being bridged by the locomotive, the upper edges projecting far enough above the wood to receive the car wheels. The model, was therefore a precursor of that which was exhibited in the eighteen-eighties by Profs. Ayrton & Perry, except, of course, that the latter had a far more perfect scheme of stopping, starting, and blocking on the line of route, as well as an indicator map to show the exact position of a train, on any section, at the signal box. Mr. Gardner Quincy Colton was born at Vermont in 1814, and now, at the advanced age of 79, he practices daily the profession of dentistry. The Electrical Engineer, New York, describes him as “the youngest of 12 children,” and adds, curiously enough, “some of whom have attained a greater age than himself.” His philosophy in his travelling days seems to have been somewhat mixed with art and medicine. Art was represented by a picture, the largest in America at the time, called the “Court of Death.” It was greatly due to this that he gained a living. In addition, he lectured upon the properties of laughing gas, and, in dental circles in America, he appears to have gained notoriety owing to his partiality for this mirth-provoking anaesthetic; and, strangely* enough, he attributes his continued good health to the same lively cause. He says, “I am inclined to think I shall owe ten years of my life to the good effects of the gas, for I inhale about 20 gallons every day in showing patients how to commence. The gas is just like air, only containing a little more oxygen. Oxygen is what gives life and vitality to the blood. We live on oxygen.” No doubt hilarity prolongeth life, but before giving the above method a trial we hesitate. Fiat experimentum in corpore vili.*

* [Let experiment be made on a worthless body.]

Image added, not in original article, from Gardner Quincy Colton, Shakspeare and the Bible (1888), frontispiece (source). Text from: The Electrical Review (11 Aug 1893), Vol. 33, 143 (source)

See also:

Nature bears long with those who wrong her. She is patient under abuse. But when abuse has gone too far, when the time of reckoning finally comes, she is equally slow to be appeased and to turn away her wrath. (1882) -- Nathaniel Egleston, who was writing then about deforestation, but speaks equally well about the danger of climate change today.
Carl Sagan Thumbnail Carl Sagan: In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) ...(more by Sagan)

Albert Einstein: I used to wonder how it comes about that the electron is negative. Negative-positive—these are perfectly symmetric in physics. There is no reason whatever to prefer one to the other. Then why is the electron negative? I thought about this for a long time and at last all I could think was “It won the fight!” ...(more by Einstein)

Richard Feynman: It is the facts that matter, not the proofs. Physics can progress without the proofs, but we can't go on without the facts ... if the facts are right, then the proofs are a matter of playing around with the algebra correctly. ...(more by Feynman)
Quotations by:Albert EinsteinIsaac NewtonLord KelvinCharles DarwinSrinivasa RamanujanCarl SaganFlorence NightingaleThomas EdisonAristotleMarie CurieBenjamin FranklinWinston ChurchillGalileo GalileiSigmund FreudRobert BunsenLouis PasteurTheodore RooseveltAbraham LincolnRonald ReaganLeonardo DaVinciMichio KakuKarl PopperJohann GoetheRobert OppenheimerCharles Kettering  ... (more people)

Quotations about:Atomic  BombBiologyChemistryDeforestationEngineeringAnatomyAstronomyBacteriaBiochemistryBotanyConservationDinosaurEnvironmentFractalGeneticsGeologyHistory of ScienceInventionJupiterKnowledgeLoveMathematicsMeasurementMedicineNatural ResourceOrganic ChemistryPhysicsPhysicianQuantum TheoryResearchScience and ArtTeacherTechnologyUniverseVolcanoVirusWind PowerWomen ScientistsX-RaysYouthZoology  ... (more topics)

Thank you for sharing.
- 100 -
Sophie Germain
Gertrude Elion
Ernest Rutherford
James Chadwick
Marcel Proust
William Harvey
Johann Goethe
John Keynes
Carl Gauss
Paul Feyerabend
- 90 -
Antoine Lavoisier
Lise Meitner
Charles Babbage
Ibn Khaldun
Ralph Emerson
Robert Bunsen
Frederick Banting
Andre Ampere
Winston Churchill
- 80 -
John Locke
Bronislaw Malinowski
Thomas Huxley
Alessandro Volta
Erwin Schrodinger
Wilhelm Roentgen
Louis Pasteur
Bertrand Russell
Jean Lamarck
- 70 -
Samuel Morse
John Wheeler
Nicolaus Copernicus
Robert Fulton
Pierre Laplace
Humphry Davy
Thomas Edison
Lord Kelvin
Theodore Roosevelt
Carolus Linnaeus
- 60 -
Francis Galton
Linus Pauling
Immanuel Kant
Martin Fischer
Robert Boyle
Karl Popper
Paul Dirac
James Watson
William Shakespeare
- 50 -
Stephen Hawking
Niels Bohr
Nikola Tesla
Rachel Carson
Max Planck
Henry Adams
Richard Dawkins
Werner Heisenberg
Alfred Wegener
John Dalton
- 40 -
Pierre Fermat
Edward Wilson
Johannes Kepler
Gustave Eiffel
Giordano Bruno
JJ Thomson
Thomas Kuhn
Leonardo DaVinci
David Hume
- 30 -
Andreas Vesalius
Rudolf Virchow
Richard Feynman
James Hutton
Alexander Fleming
Emile Durkheim
Benjamin Franklin
Robert Oppenheimer
Robert Hooke
Charles Kettering
- 20 -
Carl Sagan
James Maxwell
Marie Curie
Rene Descartes
Francis Crick
Michael Faraday
Srinivasa Ramanujan
Francis Bacon
Galileo Galilei
- 10 -
John Watson
Rosalind Franklin
Michio Kaku
Isaac Asimov
Charles Darwin
Sigmund Freud
Albert Einstein
Florence Nightingale
Isaac Newton

by Ian Ellis
who invites your feedback
Thank you for sharing.
Today in Science History
Sign up for Newsletter
with quiz, quotes and more.