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

James Glaisher
James Glaisher.jpg
Born7 April 1809 (1809-04-07)
Rotherhithe, London, England
Died7 February 1903 (1903-02-08) (aged 93)
Croydon, London, England
Children3 (incl. James)
Scientific career



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 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 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.


Plaque at Glaisher's home.

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 cultureEdit

The Aeronauts, released in 2019, includes a fictionalized account of the 5 September 1862 flight. The film depicts pilot Amelia Wren and 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 edn, 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. and 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. ^ Ballooning hero becomes a woman for new Eddie Redmayne film The Aeronauts
  14. ^ Ballooning hero 'airbrushed' from history to make way for female character in Eddie Redmayne film

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 linksEdit