Little Bits of History

Up, Up, and More Up

Posted in History by patriciahysell on September 5, 2015
James Glaisher

James Glaisher

September 5, 1862: James Glaisher and Henry Tracey Coxwell go for a balloon ride. Glaisher was born in 1809 in Rotherhithe, a residential district in southeast London. His father was a watchmaker. James became a Junior assistant at the Cambridge Observatory and in 1835 moved to the Royal Greenwich Observatories and served as Superintendent of the Department of Meteorology and Magnetism. He worked there for 34 years. While there he published his dew points tables (a measurement of humidity) and was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1849. He founded the Meteorological Society in 1850. Before founding the Aeronautical Society of Great Britain in 1866, he and his partner went on some interesting balloon rides.

Coxwell was born in 1819 in Wouldham, Kent, England. His father was a Commander in the Royal Navy. His grandfather was a pastor and Henry was born at the parsonage. He was apprenticed to a surgeon dentist in 1836. He was far more interested in balloons and spent great effort to watch as many ascents as possible. He was most impressed when Charles Green was able to sail a hot air balloon from England to Germany in 1836, but it was not until 1844 that he was able to make his own first ascent in a balloon. By the next year, he founded and edited a short lived ballooning magazine – only a dozen issues were published. In 1847, he attempted to make Green’s trip, only in reverse, with Albert Smith. They went aloft at night and during a storm. The envelope ripped and they were saved only because it caught on some scaffolding as it plummeted to the ground.

Coxwell became a professional balloonist in 1848 when he was given charge of a balloon, the Sylph, in Brussels. He flew around Europe and eventually returned to England in 1852. He continued to soar and in 1862 the British Association for the Advancement of Science requested investigations of the upper atmosphere. It was then that Glaisher was selected as the person to carry out the experiments and Coxwell was employed to fly the balloon. They constructed Mammoth, a balloon with 93,000 cubic feet of space in the envelope. They took off from Wolverhampton on this date.

They rose, higher and higher. Their goal was to reach a height never attained before. Glaisher lost consciousness and was unable to carry out the specific experiments of the day. His last reading indicated a height of 29,000 feet had been reached. Coxwell lost all feeling in his hands. He was, luckily, holding a valve-cord in his teeth and was able to pull it, making it possible for the balloon to descend. The balloon dropped to 19,000 feet in 15 minutes. It is estimated that an altitude of 35,000 to 37,000 feet had been reached, a record for the time. Both men survived, but a pigeon brought along on the trip did not. Glaisher died in 1903 at the age 93 and Coxwell died in 1900 at the age of 80.

I don’t have a fear of heights. I do, however, have a fear of falling from heights. – George Carlin

No one can predict to what heights you can soar. Even you will not know until you spread your wings. – Ray Bradbury

Let us suffer if we must, but let us suffer on the heights. – Victor Hugo

From the lowest depth there is a path to the loftiest height. – Thomas Carlyle

Also on this day: The Games Must Go On – In 1972, the Munich Massacre took place at the Olympic Games.
It Never Ends – In 1986, Pan Am Flight 73 was hijacked.
Labor Day – In 1882, the first Labor Day parade was held.
Married – In 1725, King Louis XV got married.
Party Girl – In 1921, Virginia Rapp went to a party.

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