Feud Over Credit


William Morton (1819-1868), was a dentist.  He was obsessed with one thing.  He said, “If only I could pull teeth painlessly, I would become the richest dentist in Boston, perhaps the entire world.”

Later, Morton studied medicine and chemistry under Dr. Charles Jackson (1805-1880).  Jackson was a brilliant man who seemed to know more than anyone about so many subjects. Morton learned a lot from Jackson.

Jackson also had a huge ego.  Jackson boasted many things.  He told folks that it was he was and not Samuel Morse that really deserved credit for inventing the telegraph.  He said he had shared such ideas with Morse years before and that Morse had gone on to get credit (of course there is some difference between having an idea, and developing the idea). Wikipedia lists five disputes he had with others over discoveries and inventions.

Morton began to tell Jackson of his dream to relieve pain.  Morton had already tried ether but was disappointed in the results.  Dr. Jackson said, “You must use the pure diethyl ether.  Buy it from Joseph Burnet.  His apothecary is the one that sells the pure grade.”  Morton experimented with diethyl either for many months.  He began to use the gas in removing teeth. Joseph Warren M.D. allowed Morton to demonstrate the gas in a full-blown surgery in 1846.  It worked well.  Morton was famous.  Morton patented his discovery.

Jackson then began to argue that he deserved the credit and not Morton.  England offered a generous prize to Morton for his work, but withdrew the offer when Jackson protested.  France offered a similar prize provided that both men would share it.  Morton refused  and neither received any money.  The Massachusetts General Hospital investigated and said that credit belonged to Morton, not Jackson.  But, the controversy didn’t go away.  In 1868, Morton read a newspaper article which gave credit to Jackson.  He got so angry  he immediately suffered a stroke and died a few days later.  Elizabeth, his wife, said, “The greatest personal tragedy in my husband’s life was his discovery of ether.”  Jackson also was so filled with hatred that when he saw Morton’s tombstone read, “William C. G. Morton – Inventor of anesthetic inhalation” he went totally and completely insane for the rest of his life.  He lived until 1880 in the McLean (insane) asylum.

Actually, it is now known that neither man was the true inventor.  That honor goes to Crawford W. Long, a Georgia doctor who used ether as early as 1842 in surgery.


In total contrast with the aforementioned story, consider these two men.

Charles Martin Hall of America (1863-1914), and Paul Heroult of France (1863-1914) both separately, and independently, discovered how to separate and refine aluminum inexpensively.  Their discoveries came close to the same time.  Hall was the first to patent the discovery, but Heroult actually was the first to discover the process about two months prior to Hall.  Hall had the American rights.  Heroult had the European rights.

Things could have gotten bogged down in arguing over credit.  International lawsuits could have followed.  But such did not happen.

The two became close friends.  They worked together and pooled their knowledge to improve the process even more.


In the church, let us not fret about who gets credit.  What great things could be accomplished if we stopped worrying about such!  God knows what we do for Him (Proverbs 15:3; 1 Timothy 5:25; Hebrews 6:10;).   It is He that we ought to want to please( 2 Corinthians 5:9; Galatians 1:10; 1 Thessalonians 2:4; 2 Timothy 2:15).

The apostle Paul was not concerned about who did the preaching (Philippians 1:15-18).  He simply rejoiced in the fact Christ was preached.  He did not want to make disciples of self but of Christ (1 Corinthians 1:11-13; 2 Corinthians 3:3-7).

Brethren, it does not matter who is called on to lead singing, lead prayers, preach from the pulpit, or teach class, or serve at the table.  Let us not be envious over such.  Let us rejoice that songs of praise are sang, and prayers are addressed unto God, Christ is preached, the word of God is proclaimed, and the Lord’s Supper is observed.

 Notes:                                                                                                                                                      1. Exploring the History of Medicine, by John Hudson Tiner, p. 62-66.                                  2.  Exploring the History of Chemistry, by John Hudson Tiner, p. 120-123



About Bryan Hodge

I am a minister and missionary to numerous countries around the world.
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