On 5th September 1862 James Glaisher, a meteorologist, and Henry Coxwell, a balloonist, ascended to about seven miles, and came close to dying from frostbite and asphyxiation, in an open wicker basket, lifted by a balloon filled with coal gas, without oxygen. The fight was a pioneering scientific expedition to study the atmosphere, whose properties at that time were known only from observations on or near the ground.

My question is: how long did their height record, unpressurised and without oxygen, last, and who broke it, if at all?

I have tagged this "spaceflight", of course it is not really (and there is no tag for balloon or flight) but their near death experience, and the heroic efforts of Coxwell to untangle the vent line to allow them to descend, was a 19thC forerunner of Apollo 13 one hundred years later.

  • Hmm, it would be better to ask this on Aviation.SE then. Jul 27, 2016 at 12:05
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    Looking at the wikipedia altitude records page, it would appear, given the particular limitations you've given, that the flight you named is still the record holder. Once you've reached the point where people pass out through lack of oxygen, it's difficult to get any higher and still come back alive.
    – Steve Bird
    Jul 27, 2016 at 12:08
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    Concur with @SteveBird, using wikipedia on Hot Air Ballooning. The answer must be inferred, but I suspect that your example holds.
    – MCW
    Jul 27, 2016 at 17:35

1 Answer 1


I doubt it was ever broken since they only went that high by accident after passing out. Going that high and deliberately risking your life without oxygen makes no sense.

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