Glaisher, James

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Glaisher, James

(b. Rotherhithe, England, 7 April 1809; d. Croydon, England, 7 February 1903)


Glaisher seems to have been largely self-educated and to have acquired his interest in science on visits to Greenwich observatory. In 1833 he attracted the attention of George Airy, who appointed him assistant at Cambridge observatory; when Airy became astronomer royal in 1835, Glaisher soon followed him to Greenwich. In 1838 a magnetic and meteorological department was formed at Greenwich with Glaisher as superintendent, a post he held until his retirement at the statutory age in 1874. This appointment determined the course of Glaisher’s life. He effectively organized meteorological observations and climatological statistics in the United Kingdom; and although more than 120 papers appeared under his name, his importance in the history of his chosen science lies chiefly in the great energy and persistence that he displayed in this work.

Glaisher’s first extensive scientific paper was on the radiation of heat from the ground at night (1847), and in the same year he published his Hygrometrical Tables Adapted to the Use of the Dry and Wet Bulb Thermometer, which, although entirely empirical in construction, remained in use by British meteorologists for almost a century. His most spectacular activity, which brought him to the attention of the public, was a series of scientific balloon ascents with the aeronaut Henry Coxwell in 1862, under the auspices of the British Association for the Advancement of Science.

Glaisher was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1849 and took a leading part in the founding of the British (now the Royal) Meteorological Society in 1850. He was the first president of the Royal Microscopical Society (1865–1869), president of the Photographic Society for more than twenty years, and a member of the council of the Royal Aeronautical Society from its foundation in 1866 until his death.


A bibliography compiled by W. Marriott is in Quarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society, 30 (1904), 1–28, together with an account of Glaisher’s scientific work. His writings include “Radiation of Heat at Night From the Earth ...,” in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, 137 (1847), 119–216; Tables Adapted to the Use of the Dry and Wet Bulb Thermometer (London, 1847; 9th ed., 1902); and “Account of Meteorological and Physical Observations in Balloon Ascents,” in Report of the British Association for the Advancement of Science (1862), 376–503.

W. E. K. Middleton

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James Glaisher

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