Samuel Gurthrie studied medicine and directed his research to practical chemistry. He was married and settled in Chenango County, N.Y., removing in 1817 to Sackets Harbor, N.Y. He was the inventor of percussion pills, an appliance that superseded the flint lock in firearms and [was] the forerunner of the percussion cap. He was permanently crippled and nearly lost his life in prosecuting his investigation of percussion material.
In 1830 he invented the process by which potato starch could be rapidly converted into molasses. He was the original discoverer in America of a "spirituous solution of chloric ether," the chloroform of Damas. Independent inventions of chloroform also occurred in France and Germany during the same time. Guthrie later traveled to Edinburgh, Scotland to work with the other inventors.
His product was exhibited to Professor Silliman of Yale in 1831, who repeated the process by which it was produced a year before it was made public by Soubeiran and three years before Dumas published his results and named the product chloroform. The Medico-chirurgical society of Edinburgh appointed a committee to investigate the claims of the respective claimants to the right of discovery and the committee awarded to Dr. Guthrie the merit of having in 1832 first published an account of its therapeutic effects as a diffusible stimulant.
Chloroform use was controversial on both moral and scientific grounds, especially in 1847 when an Edinburgh physician began giving the drug to women in childbirth. One of the first to use chloroform during childbirth was Britain's Queen Victoria, who publically extolled the virtues of the drug. This helped cholorform gain wide acceptance for use during surgery and childbirth.
Toward the end of his life, Guthrie saw his fortunes declining, forcing him to sell is home, located in the Town of Hounsfield. He died in Sackets Harbor, N.Y., Oct. 19, 1848 at the home of relatives, where he had been living. Guthrie Clinic on Fort Drum is named after him.