James Glaisher

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For the mathematician, see James Whitbread Lee Glaisher.
James Glaisher
James Glaisher.jpg
James Glaisher
Born 7 April 1809 (1809-04-07)
Died 7 February 1903 (1903-02-08) (aged 93)
Nationality English
Fields meteorology
20 Dartmouth Hill, London
Blue plaque, 20 Dartmouth Hill

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


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 thirty-four 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 founder 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 is most famous, however, as a pioneering balloonist. Between 1862 and 1866, usually with Henry Tracey Coxwell as his co-pilot, Glaisher made numerous ascents in order 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 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 and as much as 10,900 metres above sea-level.[8][9][10]

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 Glaisher had two sons, Ernest Glaisher and the mathematician James Whitbread Lee Glaisher (1848–1928), and one daughter.


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


  1. ^ H. P. Hollis, ‘Glaisher, James (1809–1903)’, rev. J. Tucker, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Oct 2008, accessed 5 Jan 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. 
  6. ^ Presidents 1853–2013. www.rps.org and http://rpsmembers.dmu.ac.uk/rps_results.php?mid=130. Accessed 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
  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

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

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