‘Great ease and simplicity of action’: Dr Nelson’s Inhaler and the origins of modern inhalation therapy

Barry Murnane, Darragh Murnane, Mark Sanders, Noel Snell

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Unveiled at the conclusion of a meeting of the Royal Medical and Chirurgical Society in 1861,[1] ‘Dr Nelson’s Improved Inhaler’ was one of the most important milestones in the genesis of reliable treatment of respiratory ailments in the modern era. Affordable and suitable for self-medication, the Dr Nelson’s Inhaler offered simple and reliable relief for patients with respiratory and pulmonary ailments. Conspicuous for its modesty and simplicity, it was one of the most widely produced, reproduced, and used inhalation devices in the final third of the nineteenth century. By reconstructing the ‘biography’ of the Nelson Inhaler, this article will attempt to sketch a network of medical and commercial interests and expertise in London which aligned in the 1860s to help establish inhalation as a popular, inexpensive, and trusted form of medical therapy for pulmonary ailments. This article will look at what connects physicians, apothecaries, and patients in the era: the medicines and technologies that were prescribed, made, bought, and which caused wellness, side-effects, and even death. This approach allows us to develop a narrative of respiratory illness as it was experienced by practitioners and patients alike.
Original languageEnglish
Article number170807
JournalScience Museum Group Journal
Issue number08
Publication statusPublished - 10 Nov 2017


  • history of inhalation therapy
  • history of pharmacy
  • history of technology
  • Dr Nelson's inhaler


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