James Glaisher

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James Glaisher
James Glaisher.jpg
Born(1809-04-07)7 April 1809
Rotherhithe, London, England
Died7 February 1903(1903-02-07) (aged 93)
Croydon, London, England
Children3 (incl. James)
Scientific career

James Glaisher FRS (7 April 1809 – 7 February 1903) was an English meteorologist, aeronaut and astronomer.


Glaisher's home at 20 Dartmouth Hill, London

Born in Rotherhithe, the son of a London watchmaker,[1] Glaisher was a junior assistant at the Cambridge Observatory from 1833 to 1835[2] before moving to the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, where he served as Superintendent of the Department of Meteorology and Magnetism at Greenwich for 34 years.[3][4]

In 1845, Glaisher published his dew point tables for the measurement of humidity. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in June 1849.[5]

He was a founding member of the Meteorological Society (1850) and the Aeronautical Society of Great Britain (1866). He was president of the Royal Meteorological Society from 1867 to 1868.[4] Glaisher was elected a member of The Photographic Society, later the Royal Photographic Society, in 1854 and served as the society's president for 1869–1874 and 1875–1892.[6] He remained a member until his death. He was also President of the Royal Microscopical Society. He is most famous as a pioneering balloonist. Between 1862 and 1866, usually with Henry Tracey Coxwell as his co-pilot, Glaisher made numerous ascents to measure the temperature and humidity of the atmosphere at its highest levels. His ascent on 5 September 1862 broke the world record for altitude, but he passed out around 8,800 metres (28,900 feet) before a reading could be taken. One of the pigeons making the trip with him died.[7] Estimates suggest that he rose to more than 9,500 metres (31,200 feet) and as much as 10,900 metres (35,800 feet) above sea level.[8][9][10]

Plaque at Glaisher's home

Glaisher lived at 22 Dartmouth Hill, Blackheath, London, where there is a blue plaque in his memory. He died in Croydon, Surrey in 1903, aged 93.


In 1843 he married Cecilia Louisa Belville, a daughter of Henry Belville, Assistant at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich. James and Cecilia had two sons: Ernest Glaisher and the mathematician James Whitbread Lee Glaisher (1848–1928), and one daughter: Cecilia Appelina (1845–1932).


A lunar crater is named after him. The name was approved by the IAU in 1935.[11]

In popular culture[edit]

The Aeronauts, released in 2019, includes a fictionalized account of the 5 September 1862 flight. The film depicts fictional pilot Amelia Wren, a composite of real-life female balloonists, joining Glaisher in an epic fight for survival while attempting to make discoveries in a gas balloon.[12] The movie omits Henry Coxwell entirely.[13] A report in The Daily Telegraph quotes Keith Moore, Head of Library at the Royal Society (Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge), as saying: "It’s a great shame that Henry isn’t portrayed because he performed very well and saved the life of a leading scientist".[14]


  1. ^ H. P. Hollis, "Glaisher, James (1809–1903)", rev. J. Tucker, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edition, Oct 2008. Retrieved 5 January 2009.
  2. ^ Stratton, F. J. M. "The History of the Cambridge Observatories", Annals of the Solar Physics Observatory, Cambridge Vol. I (1949).
  3. ^ Chapman, Allan (2012). "Airy's Greenwich Staff". The Antiquarian Astronomer. Society for the History of Astronomy. 6: 4–18. Bibcode:2012AntAs...6....4C. Retrieved 6 November 2015.
  4. ^ a b Hunt, John L. (1996). "James Glaisher FRS (1809–1903), Astronomer, Meteorologist and Pioneer of Weather Forecasting: 'A Venturesome Victorian'". Quarterly Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society. Royal Astronomical Society. 37 (3): 315–347. Bibcode:1996QJRAS..37..315H. Retrieved 12 June 2016.
  5. ^ "Library and Archive Catalogue". Royal Society. Retrieved 29 December 2010.[permanent dead link]
  6. ^ Presidents 1853–2013. www.rps.org and http://rpsmembers.dmu.ac.uk/rps_results.php?mid=130. Retrieved 6 March 2015.
  7. ^ Appletons' annual cyclopaedia and register of important events of the year: 1862. New York: D. Appleton & Company. 1863. p. 186.
  8. ^ Centennial of Flight. Archived 8 February 2011 at the Wayback Machine
  9. ^ 1902 Encyclopedia.
  10. ^ Bev Parker. "A Great Victorian Adventure".
  11. ^ Glaisher crater, Gazetteer of Planetary Nomenclature, International Astronomical Union (IAU) Working Group for Planetary System Nomenclature (WGPSN). Retrieved June 2015.
  12. ^ Wiseman, Andreas (15 August 2018). "Felicity Jones-Eddie Redmayne Ballooning Pic 'The Aeronauts' Under Way In UK, Amazon Releases Striking First-Look". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved 18 August 2019.
  13. ^ Malvern, Jack (16 August 2018). "Ballooning hero becomes a woman for new Eddie Redmayne film The Aeronauts". The Times.
  14. ^ Bodkin, Henry (15 August 2018). "Ballooning hero 'airbrushed' from history to make way for female character in Eddie Redmayne film". The Telegraph.


  • Jennifer Tucker. "Voyages of Discovery on Oceans of Air: Scientific Observation and the Image of Science in an Age of 'Balloonacy'", Osiris, 2nd series, Volume 11, "Science in the Field" (1996): 144–176.
  • Glaisher, James. Travels in the Air. London: Bentley, 1871; Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott, 1871. Extract.

External links[edit]