If 19th century workers needed to be working in an environment much like the inside an active volcano for several hours, would they have materials to make a proximity suit to do this? Assuming working in air at temperatures of 900°F for 4 hours, and the time is 1890. Assume they have chemical oxygen candles (rebreathers) as well. Their job is maintaining airships on a very hot alien planet

Note: Proximity means “near the hazard.” No one is swimming in magma.

  • $\begingroup$ "Inside" meaning in the lava, or just in the vicinity of it? $\endgroup$
    – Alexander
    Commented Jan 21, 2021 at 22:05
  • $\begingroup$ Not swimming in magma, air temp 900° $\endgroup$
    – Vogon Poet
    Commented Jan 21, 2021 at 22:07
  • $\begingroup$ We cannot build a 21st century suit that will withstand air temperature of 900f for 4 hours, so i very strongly doubt 19th century tech could do so.... actually, I don't think we can build a suit for a human that can withstand that air for 1 minute? The very best firefighter suits are only good up to about 500f, for 15 minutes. radiant heat can be diverted, but not air at those temperatures. $\endgroup$
    – PcMan
    Commented Jan 23, 2021 at 7:33
  • $\begingroup$ @PcMan I'm not really sure about that. This entry suit walked casually through an inferno registering 2,400F on the pyrometer and the firefighter barley got warm. youtube.com/watch?v=ZDdDjFSLjn0 . The Series M3K- Aluminised Fire Entry Suit is designed for 1,500F ambient heat. (modernapparels.com/fire-entry-suit.html) $\endgroup$
    – Vogon Poet
    Commented Jan 24, 2021 at 3:21
  • $\begingroup$ @PcMan - There is no limit to the temperature a fire can reach, wood fires on earth can reach over 3,500°F skysaver.com/blog/hot-can-fire-get-skysaver-rescue-backpacks . Thermodynamics says a flame will always add energy to the space, and energy will always increase the temperature (what magic prevents the temperature from increasing when a flame adds energy?) The thing limiting the temperature is heat REMOVAL. A fire burning in 80°F air is being cooled by that air, so the temp reaches a balance of adding/removing heat. The fuel does not determine the fire's temp, heat removal does. $\endgroup$
    – Vogon Poet
    Commented Jan 24, 2021 at 14:34

3 Answers 3



Iron workers were probably the closest human workers have ever gotten to working in Weyland's smithy.


Do take note that in the 19th century, the fashion for iron workers appears to be britches, vests and bowler hats; or else top hats and frock coats.

Asbestos has been known for ever, and according to this resource, seems to have been known and used for fireproofing clothing for a very long time. I think it comes down to a matter of timing: the industrial mining, use & application of asbestos just came too late for 19th century volcanic spelunkers.

In a world where the properties of asbestos are known, where it's relatively easy to obtain, and where the need to work inside volcanoes has spurred the growth of this particular industry, I see no reason that such a suit couldn't be made, if crudely, in the 19th century.

  • 9
    $\begingroup$ I wouldn't be caught submerged in molten iron without my bowler hat and frock coat, but that's just how I was raised. $\endgroup$
    – Tom
    Commented Feb 25, 2022 at 3:15

You will need to remove heat from the workers.

diving suit


900 F is too hot to breathe. The workers will need diving suit - like helmets to provide cooler air. Since they are in suits they can also have a water circuit to cool the suits. The hose providing cool water will itself stay cool from the water inside it and the water hose can jacket the air supply hose which otherwise would itself catch fire.

The materials for the suits are not waterproof; the opposite as much of the water pumped into the suit comes thru the canvas pores and drips away or evaporates, carrying away heat.

You would need to keep the cool water coming fast to keep your workers cool. You had better have a lot of it topside if they are going to be in 900F for 4 hours. You could pump the water back up to reclaim and cool it. Alternatively it could just fall out the pores of the suit and then it would keep working to cool the immediate environs of the workers.

There would be a lot of steam!

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ why use a pump just use gravity put the reservoir higher than the working area. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Commented Jan 22, 2021 at 19:17
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ 900F is not just too hot to breathe, it is too hot to cook your meat in. Set oven to 900f, and your roast will catch fire $\endgroup$
    – PcMan
    Commented Jan 23, 2021 at 7:34
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ I suggest adding some method to keep the wearer very aware of the status of the water flow. If it cuts off for any reason, that's a very good time to head back and take a break. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 25, 2022 at 3:30

The short answer is yes

The long answer is that all the necessary materials were already available (especially if they can travel through space) the answer is asbestos. Asbestos was the first material used for high temperature protective suits (for the explanation I will work with degrees Celsius as this is the unit of temperature measurement in the international system of measurement, 900F is 482.222C) the first asbestos fire suits could protect from up to 285C while thicker versions for industrial use could withstand 1000C.

The main problem is that the insulation also prevents the human body is normally at 37C and can withstand up to 50C. Although this is simple to solve with a tank of cold water for the worker to drink, 4 hours is entirely possible.


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