Scope and Content of Collection
Special Collections & Archives, UC San Diego
9500 Gilman Drive
La Jolla 92093-0175
Title: Charles Houston Papers
Houston, Charles S.
Identifier/Call Number: MSS 0716
35 Linear feet
(72 archives boxes, 4 record cartons, 2 card file boxes, and 1 flat box)
Date (inclusive): 1906 - 2009
The papers of Charles Houston, high altitude researcher and mountaineer, document his medical and high altitude expedition
career from 1945-2009. The materials include correspondence, research from the Operation Everest I and II, high altitude medical
research investigations, Peace Corps materials, writings, photographs and audiovisual materials.
Charles Snead Houston, born in 1913 in New York, was an American physician, mountaineer, high-altitude investigator, and former
Peace Corps administrator. He was educated at Harvard University and earned a Doctor of Medicine from Columbia University
College of Physicians and Surgeons. Houston practiced internal medicine in Exeter, New Hampshire and Aspen, Colorado. Later,
he joined the faculty at the University of Vermont as Professor of Medicine. He retired from the faculty in 1979.
In 1936, Houston was a member of an expedition led by the British climber H.W. Tilman to the top of Nanda Devi in India, the
highest mountain climbed at that time. In 1938, he led the first American Karakoram expedition to K2. In 1953, he organized
an expedition return to K2 and although he did not reach the summit, his party mapped a route to the summit that was accomplished
by the Italian team in 1954. Houston published
K2, the Savage Mountain (1954) about the expedition.
Houston began his study of the effects of high altitude as a naval flight surgeon in World War II. He was in charge of Operation
Everest (1947) in which four subjects were taken to a simulated altitude of 8850 m over 34 days in a compression chamber.
The studies demonstrated that acclimatization would allow pilots to fly unpressurized planes to altitudes of 15,000 feet and
higher. Houston continued similar studies of human biological responses at extreme simulated altitudes in the high altitude
chamber during Operation Everest II in 1985.
From 1962 to 1965, Houston served as the first Country Director of the Peace Corps for India under the directorship of Robert
Sargent Shriver. He was instrumental in developing the medical doctors' division within the Corps. Additionally during the
1960s, Houston was involved with early attempts to construct an artificial heart. Consequently his designs influenced the
design of the Jarvik artificial heart.
Even after his mountaineering days of climbing discontinued, Houston continued the investigation of altitude sickness and
was the first to document high-altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE). The culmination of his work was executed on the grant funded
research study on Mount Logan in the Yukon territory in Canada. Houston was the director of the Arctic Institute on Mount
Logan in 1968.
Additionally, Houston was a major benefactor for establishing the Colorado Altitude Research Institute (CARI), now known as
the Altitude Research Center. Under the leadership of Dr. Houston, the institute studied how hypoxia affects health and performance
and included the largest survey performed in the United States into incidences of acute mountain sickness.
Charles Houston died on September 27, 2009 in Burlington, Vermont.
Scope and Content of Collection
The papers of Charles Houston, high altitude physiology researcher and mountaineer, relate to the medical research and investigation
of high altitude climates and illnesses. Notable portions of the collection are Houston's studies of high altitude simulated
environments: Operation Everest I and II, Mount Logan High Altitude Physiology Study, and the Mount Washington study. Houston's
research resulted in numerous published books, mountaineering accounts, and writings. The papers also include correspondence,
materials related to other significant mountain expeditions, professional affiliations documents, additional grant and research
projects, and biographical materials. A modest portion of the collection represents Houston's tenure as the first Country
Director for Peace Corps for India, as lead medical teaching doctor. The collection also includes audio and visual recordings.
The papers are arranged in nine series: 1) CORRESPONDENCE, 2) BIOGRAPHICAL MATERIALS, 3) PEACE CORPS OF INDIA, 4) HIGH ALTITUDE
RESEARCH, 5) WRITINGS, 6) GRANTS AND RESEARCH, 7) LECTURES AND CONFERENCES, 8) PROFESSIONAL AFFILIATIONS, and 9) IMAGES AND
Publication rights are held by the creator of the collection.
Charles Houston Papers, MSS 716. Special Collections & Archives, UC San Diego Library.
COLLECTION STORED OFF-SITE. ALLOW ONE WEEK FOR RETRIEVAL OF MATERIALS.
Original audiovisual media formats are restricted. Viewing/listening copies may be available for researchers. Correspondence
containing medical information in Boxes 19-20 and 71 is restricted until 2095.
A small selection of materials in the Charles Houston papers had significant water damage, therefore photocopy reproductions
replace the originals in portions of the papers.
Subjects and Indexing Terms
Mountaineering -- Physiological aspects
Altitude, Influence of
Houston, Charles S. -- Archives