Documentation of Dr. Oscar Wyss's modification of a commercially available oxygen generator to be used by climbers during the 1951 Swiss expedition to Mt. Everest.

Historical Background

Dr. Oscar Wyss was a Swiss physiologist associated with the Physiologisches Institut der Universitat Zurich.

In 1950, Dr. Wyss modified an oxygen generator for use by the Swiss climbing team during its 1951 Everest Expedition. Dr. Wyss's model was the oxygen generator manufactured by Mine Safety Appliances of Pittsburgh, Penn., for use in coal mining.

A closed circuit system, the generator weighed less than five pounds and could be easily carried on the abdomen of a climber. It used potassium dioxide to break down the water in respiration into potassium hydroxide and oxygen, the latter to be inhaled by a climber wearing the device. A climber could use the device to support breathing for up to forty-five minutes independent of the air supply present in the environment. Opening the circuit to include the local atmosphere could extend the life of the device even longer.

Wyss's modification was unsuccessful. The volume of moisture contained in exhaled air at high altitude is considerably less than at sea level. Thus, the device's ability to produce oxygen at high altitude was greatly diminished. Also, Wyss had designed the device with a stiff, inflexible breathing tube, making it impossible to use the device while actually climbing.

The failure of the device contributed significantly to the failure of the Swiss team to reach the summit of Mt. Everest.

The collection was given to John B. West in 1998 by Dr. E. A. Koller of the Physiologisches Institut der Universitat Zurich.

Scope and Content

A collection of documents pertaining to Dr. Oscar Wyss's modification of an oxygen generator manufactured by Mine Safety Appliances in Pittsburgh, Penn. for use by climbers during the 1951 Swiss Everest Expedition. The collection includes correspondence among Dr. Wyss and members of the 1951 Swiss Everest Team, background literature about oxygen generators, a brief report of the 1951 Swiss expedition, newsclippings about the 1951 Swiss expedition and the 1953 British expedition to Everest, and photographs of the device.


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11 Correspondence, 1950 - 1974.
12 Correspondence with manufacturers, 1951 - 1965.
13 Chemical oxygen generators: Background literature, 1950 - 1968. Includes some correspondence.
14 CHEMOX--Oxygen Breathing Apparatus modified by Wyss, 1951. A two page description of the apparatus with attached photograph.
15 "Expedition Suisse a L'Himalaya", 1951. Four page typescript.
16 Newsclippings about climbers and Everest expeditions, 1951 - 1997. Photocopies of originals.
17 Photographs of the apparatus, 1951.
18 Selected originals of preservation photocopies.
21 Exchange valve from the apparatus, 1951.

Finding aid generated: 2005-10-31