Chloroform is the common name of the organic compound whose chemical formula is HCCl 3. The molecule of trichloromethane, as it is also called, consists of a central carbon atom bonded to a hydrogen atom and three chlorine atoms. Chloroform is a nonflammable colorless liquid (boiling point 141.8°F [61°C]) that has a heavy sweet odor and taste. The compound was first prepared in 1831 simultaneously by Justus von Liebig (1803-1873) in Germany and by Eugene Soubeiran (1797-1858) in France using different procedures. Samuel Guthrie (1782-1848), in the United States, also discovered chloroform in that same year.
Chloroform was originally used to calm people suffering from asthma. In 1847, James Y. Simpson, a Professor of Midwifery at the University of Edinburgh, began using chloroform as an anesthetic to reduce pain during childbirth. From this initial experiment, chloroform began to be used as general anesthesia in medical procedures throughout the world. The use of chloroform in this application was eventually abandoned because of its harmful side effects on the heart and liver.
Chloroform has commonly been used as a solvent in the manufacture of pesticides, dyes, and drugs. The use of the chemical in this manner was important in the preparation of penicillin during World War II. Chloroform was used as a sweetener in various cough syrups and to add flavor "bursts" to toothpaste and mouthwash. Its pain relieving properties were incorporated into various liniments and toothache medicines. The chemical was also used in photographic processing and dry cleaning. All of these applications for chloroform were stopped by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) in 1976, when the compound was discovered to cause cancer in laboratory mice. Today, chloroform is a key starting material for the production of chemicals used in refrigerators and air conditioners.