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Gas Administered: 1919

Gas Administered: 1919

Washington, D.C., circa 1919. "S.B. Johnston, dentist, interior." Have a seat and make yourself comfortable. National Photo Co. glass negative. View full size.


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Precious memories

Doc Silverman was a good ole guy. His drill was named "Willie The Tickler" -- need I say more. I would walk to his office after school, climb two flights of stairs, sit in a chair very similar to the one pictured here, and proceed to spend the most agonizing 30 minutes I can remember. After the procedure was over, Doc would give me a candy bar, of giant sucker for being a good patient. Talk about job security.

Makes me weak in the knees!!!

I am a Dental Hygienist. Whew..takes my breath away to look at this scene. The instruments on the counter and the ones hanging on hooks on the wall are particularly disturbing. Of course you were more "green" then without the energy expended for autoclaving and the individual packets to sterilize in.


are what this picture is made of. I feel sorry for all of us who had to endure the dreaded dentist chair before high powered drills and other painless dentistry that we have today. No wonder every older adult I knew growing up had dentures. It was too dang scary and painful to go to the dentist! This office doesn't look too sanitary either.

Coldest Office

At least in the winter time. The steam radiator is totally blocked except for the end. The "spit" bowl and glass filler are very close to what we see today. My dentist, in the '40s, told my folks that he didn't much like working with kids because they didn't stand pain well.

Gas Administered

Thanks, Doc Johnston. Your window sign has given me comfort.

When gas prices shoot back up, that's how I want my gasoline -- "administered," not pumped. Makes the price seem less gougey, and the experience more regal.

Kollectible keg

The ceramic kegger in the corner is actually a vintage crock water cooler. They were present in every country school. And obviously used in places like this where you needed to pour a glass of water. I'm thinking the cut glass spit bowl & glass probably replaced it.

It's missing the spigot and lid. From an antique point of view, these are very desirable now. $300 to $600 for this one, I'd estimate.

Modern Dr. Johnson

My current dentist is also Dr. Johnson, and I have an appointment tomorrow; I've printed this picture to show him.

I can't tell you how many million times I'm glad this isn't 1919 and I have to see *that* Dr. Johnson, painless or otherwise!

[Our man here is Johnston, not Johnson. - Dave]

Where's Dr. Fields?

Out on the golf course with Bud Jamison, wreaking havoc. The first dentist I ever went to had been my father's dentist when he was a kid, and I still remember the date on his diploma: 1933(!).

However, that Old Doc Yankem gave me a valuable piece of advice: "Always expect the worst, because then you'll be ready for it. But if the best comes instead, it'll seem extra good." Then he went to work with his drill. Once I pulled one of the armrests clean off his chair while he was drilling. No more than 12 years old, and I snapped the thing right off!

Orin Scrivello, DDS

My boy, I think someday
You'll find a way
To make your natural tendencies pay
You'll be a dentist
You have a talent for causin' things pain
Son, be a dentist
People will pay you to be inhumane
Your temperament's wrong for the priesthood
And teaching would suit you still less
Son, be a dentist
You'll be a success.

A Terrifying Tableau

The sight of this just scares the hell out of me! When I was young there weren't any Novocaine needles that I knew of. Dr. McKeown just sprayed some stuff on my gums and yanked out my tooth. I think I came right out of the chair with it. Then about a hundred spits later and a ball of ever so dry cotton was placed in the empty socket. Isn't this enough to scare anyone? Mind you, I do remember getting some toy. A plaster of paris Disney figure, or something like that.

Modern dentistry

When I was a boy (I'm 53), our family dentist was getting ready to retire. He had an old foot-operated treadle drill. Since he had arthritis in his knees, he couldn't keep up the speed. Imagine having a tooth drilled where the bit was only spinning 10 rpm. Yow! You'd have to give me gas if I had to have that method used today.

Coolest Office

The Coolest Dental Office In Washington

1919 Advertisement

A white knuckle ride

The arms of the chair are so incredibly worn. I cringe to think of all the people who gripped those armrests so tightly.

My grandmother's uncle was a dentist then. It says something about the quality of dentistry of that period that she (born 1912) had to have all her teeth removed due to gum infection in her mid twenties.

She said everyone called him "Doc" and the kids loved him.

The dentist??? Liked by kids??? How on earth?

My grandmother explained that big procedures, painful ones, he did at the local hospital where the children could be put under and not feel a thing.

Look Mom, no cavities!

Looks like Billy Bob left his teeth on the counter.

I spell my name ...

... Tsitned.

Oops, wrong thread.

Foot long hypodermic

That massive steel hypodermic syringe on the counter must be a foot long......absolutely terrifying. They probably needed to give you that much novocaine to kill the pain caused by the low-speed drills of the time!!

The smell of clove oil

This is not too different than my first dentist in the early 40's. He was on the second floor up over the cigar store but as soon as you ascended up to his hallway, the powerful whiff of clove oil was overwhelming. Also, notice that the 'spit basin' is etched cut glass, with a matching tumbler, and one of the latest things in plumbing today seems to be glass basins as sinks (everything old is new again). My dentist did have a prominent "sterilizer" labeled as such on his countertop and a huge container of cotton. A "drill and fill" cost $3 per tooth if you did not ask for novocaine and we didn't. He also removed a growth from inside my sister's cheek as a "complimentary service." To quote old George Goble, "You don't hardly get that anymore."

Filigree and fillings

I love the fancy filigree paint job on the back of the chair. As if that were going to make any difference to someone who had to sit in the thing and suffer. The cuspidor has some fancy touches as well.

You're scaring me

I wonder what originally came in the ceramic kegger in the corner. And what goes in there now. And all those instruments sitting out on the counter with (undoubtedly) flies buzzing around just gives me the willies.

Those aren't exactly veneers

Back then "painless" was a big deal. I can see why; it was about all they had going for them. Cosmetic Dentistry was a long way off.

Tooth & Nail

Provides a glimpse into on past incarnation of our neighbor's 1700's house. The town dentist had his shingle outside from around the time of this photo to the late 1950s. Turns out every time he mixed an amalgam filling, he'd flick the mercury behind the radiator -- must have thought it would evaporate. Made quite the interesting discovery when they moved in and remodeled the office!


The basic setup of a dental chair hasn't seem to have changed since then. I'm sure the comfort level of the patient has risen considerably though.

Long hours!

This dentist was open 11½ hours a day!
W.C. Fields, where are you?

Let me count the ways..

that this picture gives me the willies. I'm a big baby in a modern dental office. I would be curled up in the fetal position, sobbing on the floor in this one.

Dr. McTeague will see you now

Gazing on this cozy scene, the mind fairly reels.

Torture Chamber

That contraption of a seat looks like the chair of proverbial pain. I'd be scared stiff.

Nothing Like

sterile instruments, and teeth fitted to go. I wonder what the squeeze ball beside the window's function was. Maybe to administer the gas?

[That's a splice jacket for the electrical wiring. - Dave]

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