Dr Hans Georg Epstein (1909-2002)

  • Epstein, Hans Georg, 1909-2002
  • Archives and manuscripts

About this work


Within Epstein's papers is a large amount of correspondence with work colleagues and companies employed to manufacture his inhalers. Occassionally, Epstein kept copies of the out letters he sent, however, their retention appears to be more of a random occurance than one based on a considered filing scheme. The correspondence covers a wide range of topics (usually related to the field of anaesthesia) which include Epstein giving advice on certain subjects, being invited to lecture at specific events, discussing inhaler designs and test result data (of both his own products and those of others). Also existing is a significant amount of correspondence on various aspects of the book Epstein co-wrote, Physics for the Anaesthetist. Correspondence related to Epstein's own education is also included.

Also relating to Epstein's research and development activities are a number of laboratory notebooks and loose papers which record, amongst other things test results of various anaesthetic inhalers and anaesthetic gases. Epstein also kept notebooks in which he wrote out general maths, physics and chemical equations and formula, often citing who discovered the relevent information/data and when.

Amongst the papers are large amounts of published material. The majority are journal articles, written by third parties, which covered current and historical developments in anaesthesia or focussed on the development of specific anaesthesia apparatus. Epstein also compiled a set of research papers, journal articles and information on the specific subject of the history of resuscitation.

The collection also includes material related to World and European Congresses of Anaesthesiologists attended by Epstein, including invitations, travel arrangements and congress itineries. Epstein also retained invitations to lecture and lecture notes as well as details (invoices) of a variety of work-related expenses incurred during his career.

Other papers include those related to Epstein's work with Penlon, a medical apparatus manufacturer as well as papers related to Sir Robert Macintosh (Epstein's boss at Nuffield). The Penlon section includes correspondence between Epstein and Penlon and inhaler test data from tests conducted by Epstein for Penlon. The Macintosh section includes documents concerning Sir Robert's 90th birthday and his obituary.



Physical description

16 boxes


The papers have been divided into twelve sections that reflect Epstein's activities, but remain in the original order imposed by Epstein.

It appears that Epstein developed this order sometime after many of the papers were created. Evidence for this is suggested by: a note made by Epstein in 1999 (now in the accessions folder) that shows he was systematically arranging papers into specific folders; folders being given numerous different file titles and files containing papers that span many decades despite the file itself being quite thin, suggesting that Epstein removed a lot of items he did not want to keep or considered not worth keeping.

The twelve sections are:

A Correspondence

B Laboratory notes

C Subjects

D Penlon

E Physics for the Anaesthetist

F Lectures/Conferences/Congresses

G Publications

H Resuscitation history

J Sir Robert Macintosh and the Nuffield Department of Anaesthetics

K Expenses

L Files of assorted papers related to anathesia

M Photographs and drawings

Though Epstein kept a majority of his correspondence papers together, runs of correspondence will be found amongst sections other than Section A. Some attempts were made by Epstein to systematically arrange the correspondence, either by geographical location or alphabetically by author's name. However, this is not the case for all correspondence and some runs will be found by subject, such as invites to lecture or letters related to Physics for the Anaesthetist. To maintain Epstein's original order, correspondence have been left where Epstein filed them and have not been transferred to Section A. Individual items of correspondence, that were not specifically filed by Epstein have been kept as individual items within Section A.

The section on laboratory notes (Section B) is divided into two series, notes of anaesthesia laboratory experiments conducted by Epstein and notes of general maths, physics and chemistry formula and equations (not necessarily directly related to anaesthesia).

Epstein kept individual subject files for the papers of some of the different professional issues that he engaged with during his career. These papers are filed under Section C and include, a series on the development of specific anaesthesia apparatus for example the EMO or the Oxford Vaporizer, a series concerning legal cases (usually patent issues) that Epstein was professionally involved in and a series regarding standards in the field of anaesthesia. Within this section are files that do not fall into one of the three series, but still directly relate to Epstein's professional work.

Section F, on lectures, conference and congresses is subdivided into three related series of lecture invites, lecture notes and anaesthesia congress/conference details.

The journal publications were for the most part kept in separate files and form a section of their own (Section G). However, journal articles on both contemporary issues and historical issues related to anaesthesia will be found in other sections of the collection. Papers related to Sir Robert Macintosh and staff at the Nuffield form a small but distinct section (Section J), as do the sections on Epstein's expenses (Section K) and photos, of colleagues and apparatus (Section M). However, as is the case with the other sections there is an element of overlap, and items such as photos will be found amongst the papers in other sections. The papers that form these sections (J, K and M) could have possibly been put as series within Section C, however, their contents were not so obviously grouped as 'professional issues' Epstein encountered during his career and so they remain separate to form their own discrete sections.

Section H contains a large amount of material on the history of resuscitation. The papers are either photocopies or handwritten copies from journals or text books studying the issue. There appears to be no original research by Epstein within these papers. The reason for this material being gathered is not clear.

Epstein compiled a couple of 'catch all' files that contain papers from a vast range of different subjects. These have been retained in their original form, as a reflection of Epstein's own practice; since they do not fit neatly into other sections of the collection they have been given their own (Section L).

Acquisition note

This material was presented to the Wellcome Trust as a gift in perpetuity by Vera Epstein, the widow of Dr Hans Epstein on the 12 March 2003.

Biographical note

Hans Georg Epstein was born in Berlin on the 25 April 1909. He was educated in Switzerland and Bavaria but returned to Berlin where he studied for a doctorate in physics from the department of Physical Chemistry at Berlin University, gaining the 'very rare distinction' (Ref.: PP/HGE/A/B/6) of summa cum laude in 1934.

In the late 1930s, Dr Epstein, also known as 'Eppy' or 'Ep' to work colleagues and friends, moved to England and worked briefly in London before moving to Oxford to pursue his scientific research.

It was in Oxford that Epstein began specialising in research and development in the field of anaesthesia. He was employed at the Clarendon Laboratory, Oxford at the suggestion of the first Nuffield Professor of Anaesthetics, Sir Robert Macintosh who was keen to develop new forms of ether inhaler, ether being the principle anaesthetic of the day.

With the outbreak of war, in 1939, Epstein was taken on by the Nuffield Department of Anaesthetics to help develop a portable yet reliable inhaler that could be used on the battlefield where access to oxygen cylinders and anaesthetic gases was not possible. It was also essential that individuals with no medical training could safely and effectively use the apparatus. The resulting product was the Oxford Vaporizer, which was manufactured by the Lord Nuffield-owned Morris Motors Ltd. and used by allied troops across the world (Ref.: PP/HGE/C/A/5, copy of letter from Sgt Alex Hood, 1943).

During the war Epstein helped to develop other products, such as life jackets for airmen, but his principle interest and expertise lay in the research and development of anaesthetic inhalers. In 1956, the Epstein Macintosh Oxford (EMO) inhaler was released, superseding the Oxford vaporizer. The EMO was a more sophisticated yet simpler apparatus that used internal bellows to maintain a constant flow of gases. A later version, known as the EMOTRIL (which used Trichloroethylene), was specifically developed for analgesia in obstetrics.

Through the 1950s and 1960s Epstein continued his research and development of anaesthesia inhalers, building himself a global reputation as a leading expert in this field. His inhalers harnessed the latest anaesthesia agents, such as Halothane: an example was the Oxford Miniature Vaporizer (OMV), a version of which found use during the Falklands conflict in 1982 (Ref: PP/HGE/C/A/4 Times newspaper clipping).

Epstein's research was often accompanied by a personal interest in the historical development of the subject concerned. His papers include many items that show an interest in the historical developments in anaesthesia, as well as a wider interest in topics such as the history of scientific research into resuscitation (Ref: PP/HGE/H/1 and PP/HGE/H/2).

During his time at Oxford, Epstein developed a reputation as an informative and entertaining lecturer. He was given many invitations to speak on a range of anaesthesia topics; however, most memorable were his lectures and demonstrations on the subject of anaesthetic explosions.

Epstein also found time to research and co-write Physics for the Anaesthetist. It was hailed as a seminal resource in the field of anaesthesia and three editions were published between 1946 and 1963. However, delays in publishing a fourth, revised edition were blamed on Epstein and led to him being ejected from the project in 1982 (Ref: PP/HGE/E/A/2), much to his dissatisfaction. The fourth edition was eventually published in 1987, though Epstein remained bitter as to the amount of credit attributed to himself and Lord Nuffield within this edition (Ref: PP/HGE/E/A/3 draft letter to Per Saugman).

Epstein spent the latter years of his working life, and part of his retirement (until the mid 1980s) conducting anaesthesia research tests for the medical apparatus manufacturer Penlon. Retirement also allowed Epstein to pursue his interests outside of science, including cycling and food and wine connoisseurship.

Dr Hans Epstein died in Oxford on 1 August 2002, survived by his wife for 57 years, Vera, and their two sons.

For further biographical information see obituaries in The Times and the website for St Cross College, Oxford.

Related material

At Wellcome Collection:

The personal papers of Sir Robert Macintosh, the first Nuffield Professor of anaesthetics (PP/RRM).

Copyright note

Copyright in these papers has been transferred to the Wellcome Trust.

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Accession number

  • 1136