Oscar Wyss Oxygen Generator Files, 1950 - 1997 (MSS 466)

Extent: 0.4 Linear feet (1 archives box and 1 shoebox)

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.

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.

Container List


Box 1 Folder 1
Correspondence, 1950 - 1974
Box 1 Folder 2
Correspondence with manufacturers, 1951 - 1965
Box 1 Folder 3
Chemical oxygen generators: Background literature, 1950 - 1968

Includes some correspondence.

Box 1 Folder 4
CHEMOX--Oxygen Breathing Apparatus modified by Wyss, 1951

A two page description of the apparatus with attached photograph.

Box 1 Folder 5
"Expedition Suisse a L'Himalaya", 1951

Four page typescript.

Box 1 Folder 6
Newsclippings about climbers and Everest expeditions, 1951 - 1997

Photocopies of originals.

Box 1 Folder 7
Photographs of the apparatus, 1951
Box 1 Folder 8
Selected originals of preservation photocopies
Box 2 Folder 1
Exchange valve from the apparatus, 1951