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He was a founding 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. 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. He remained a member until his death.
He was also President of the Royal Microscopical Society.
He is most famous 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 (28,900 feet) before a reading could be taken. One of the pigeons making the trip with him died. Estimates suggest that he rose to more than 9,500 metres (31,200 feet) and as much as 10,900 metres (35,800 feet) above sea level.
Plaque at Glaisher's home
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 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.
In popular culture
The Aeronauts, released in 2019, includes a fictionalized account of the 5 September 1862 flight. The film depicts fictional pilot Amelia Rennes, joining Glaisher in an epic fight for survival while attempting to make discoveries in a gas balloon. The movie omits Henry Coxwell entirely. 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".
Tucker, Jennifer (1996). "Voyages of Discovery on Oceans of Air: Scientific Observation and the Image of Science in an Age of 'Balloonacy'". Osiris. 2nd series. 11 ("Science in the Field"): 144-176. doi:10.1086/368758.