If an American Had Invented the Thermometer (Apr, 1936)

If an American Had Invented the Thermometer

FAHRENHEIT, the scientist who invented the scale of temperatures we use, took the greatest cold he could find as zero. But if an American had made the thermometer with the lowest reading in the United States as zero, it would be 66 degrees below Fahrenheit’s (66° below zero in Yellowstone Park) ; 98° would be freezing, instead of blood heat, and a hot summer’s day in Death Valley might go to 200°!

23 comments
  1. r peltier says: June 23, 20109:01 am

    WHAT? This article makes absolutely no sense, i think half of it is missing.

  2. Kosher Ham says: June 23, 201010:25 am

    You said it– absolute! Lord Kelvin would be proud!

  3. Richard says: June 23, 201011:03 am

    In engineering school, I remember hearing that Fahrenheit measured the temperature throughout the year, and zero degrees was the coldest temperature he encountered, while 100 was the hottest. It seemed reasonable enough when I first heard the legend, but I don’t believe that apocryphal story is true. It’s certainly contradicted by Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org… . And it makes no sense to base a scale on measured temperatures of weather that are not easily reproducible.

    Anyway, it sounds like the writer of this article heard that same myth, or at least the part about setting zero to the lowest temperature encountered in winter. He’s just assuming that if Fahrenheit had done that research in Yellowstone during a record cold winter, then the entire Fahrenheit scale would be shifted downward by 66 degrees. It’s an absurd conclusion based on faulty reasoning and wrong assumptions, but it was interesting enough to get published.

  4. Firebrand38 says: June 23, 20101:42 pm

    Richard: Another explanation of the facts here

  5. Scott B. says: June 23, 20103:39 pm

    Since we’re talking temperature scales and what not, I have a question for our Celsius-using friends outside the U.S: do home furnaces and A/C units allow you to set the temperature to increments between degrees (eg. 20.7 or 22.4)? When setting our A/C, the difference between 77 degrees Fahrenheit and 78 degrees F is noticeable to me and my wife. I imagine the difference between a single degree in Celsius would feel wildly different, hence my (dumb) question. Thanks.

  6. Myles says: June 23, 20105:12 pm

    Our thermostat has half degree increments. So 20.0 or 20.5. You can also switch it to Fahrenheit.

  7. Toronto says: June 23, 20105:31 pm

    My thermostat does NOT allow “half degree” settings in Celsius.

    But I don’t need that. What I need is a thermostat that can be offset, so my wife thinks the temperature is the way she wants it, and I don’t freeze all summer and boil all winter.

  8. Scott B. says: June 23, 20109:10 pm

    Thanks, Myles and Toronto. It’s incredible to me that there aren’t tenths or fifths increments between degrees C on all thermostats. As I said, a single degree F can make a world of difference. One of the few times I’m glad we’re still hanging onto our outdated measurements here in the U.S!

    P.S. Toronto, I think all women are that way. Only comfortable in an exceedingly narrow range of temp. :-)

  9. Buddy says: June 25, 20106:54 am

    @4 Firebrand – from the article:

    Then, for reasons nobody has ever been able to fathom, he multiplied all the numbers by 16/15, making 32 freezing and 96 body temperature. Boiling point for the time being he ignored altogether.

    The reason: 96 – 32 = 64. Using the high and low calibration marks on his thermometer, it’s very easy to bisect 64 to 32 + 32, then 32 to 16 + 16, etc., down to a single degree. Most people can do this accurately just by eye. Fahrenheit was a practical fellow.

  10. Toronto says: June 26, 201012:52 pm

    “If an American had invented the Thermometer”: Take 2.

    Celcius American
    -40 Fairbanks
    -20 Duluth
    0 Casper
    20 San Francisco
    40 Flagstaff.

  11. George says: June 29, 20105:11 am

    I think my 6th grade science book oversimplified, too. 0=coldest mixture of salt and ice, 100=his wife’s body temperature. I imagine if those were the facts, then by now someone like Asimov would have written a science essay titled, “Mrs. Fahrenheit’s Fever.”

  12. Toronto says: June 29, 201012:04 pm

    George: I recall he used the internal temperature of a cow, not his wife (whom I’ve never met but I’m sure wasn’t a cow in the conventional sense.)

    I’ll go out on a limb and guess how he took that temperature, and frankly the technique is much easier with a bovine than with a human.

  13. Firebrand38 says: June 29, 201012:45 pm

    Toronto: That’s incorrect In his own writing he says that it was a human temperature

    “Yet before I undertake a review of these experiments it will be necessary to say a few words about the thermometers that I have built, and the division of the scale they use, and in addition the method of producing a vacuum I have used. I make two particular types of thermometer, one of which is filled with alcohol and the other with mercury. Their length varies in accordance with the use to which they are put. Yet all use the same scale, and their differences relate only to their fixed limits. The scale of those thermometers that are used only for observations on the weather begins with zero and ends on the 96th degree. The division of the scale depends on three fixed points, which can be determined in the following manner. The first is found in the uncalibrated part or the beginning of the scale, and is determined by a mixture of ice, water and ammonium chloride or even sea salt. If the thermometer is placed in this mixture, its liquid descends as far as the degree that is marked with a zero. This experiment succeeds better in winter than in summer. The second point is obtained if water and ice are mixed without the aforementioned salts. When the thermometer is placed in this mixture, its liquid reaches the 32nd degree. I call this ‘freezing point’. For still waters are already covered with a very thin layer of ice when the liquid of the thermometer touches this point in winter. The third point is situated at the 96th degree. Alcohol expands up to this point when it is held in the mouth or under the armpit of a living man in good health until it has completely acquired his body heat. But if the temperature of a man suffering from fever or some other heating disease is to be investigated, another thermometer must be used, with a scale extended to the 128th or 132nd degree. I have not yet discovered by experiment whether these degrees are sufficient for the most intense heat of some fever, but it is scarcely credible that the heat of any fever should exceed the degrees I have described. When a thermometer is being used to investigate the temperature of boiling liquids, it too starts from zero and contains 600 degrees, for around this point mercury itself (with which the thermometer is filled) begins to boil.”

    D. G. Fahrenheit.
    Experimenta et Observationes de Congelatione aquae in vacuo factae a D. G. Fahrenheit, R. S. S..
    Philosophical Transactions (London), volume 33, page 78 (1724).
    Translated for Sizes by J. Holland.

    Important safety tip. If you start out with “I recall”, “Someone told me”, “I read somewhere” or “I heard…” then it’s probably B.S.

  14. JMyint says: June 30, 20106:11 pm

    When I went to donate blood the technician took my temperature and got a real worried look on her face. She took it again and then said it’s 96.2. I told that sounds about right. My doctor once told me I was in pretty good health for a dead guy.

  15. Firebrand38 says: June 30, 20109:46 pm

    JMyint: Only if that’s the room temperature. In adult men and women the normal range for oral temperature is 33.2–38.2 °C (92–101 °F), for rectal it is 34.4–37.8 °C (94–100 °F), for the Tympanic cavity it is 35.4–37.8 °C (96–100 °F) and for axillary it is 35.5–37.0 °C (96–99 °F) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih…

  16. lwatcdr says: July 1, 20106:08 pm

    Actually the scale was the coldest temperature he could find was 0. He then made the freezing point of water and the boiling point 180 degrees apart.
    Had he must picked the freezing point of water as 0 it would be a completely logical system. Well as logical as C is.

  17. Firebrand38 says: July 1, 20106:36 pm

    lwatcdr: Actually it’s all explained in his own words in my post so can we please move on from this?
    Thanks for playing and next time pay attention.

  18. Toronto says: July 1, 20107:01 pm

    Firebrand – thanks for that – I stand corrected.

    JMyint: I got poisoned once – botulism – and due to some weird interaction of the things they pumped into me in hospital, had my body temperature lowered to 36C (96.8F). It stayed that way for years, but eventually crept back up to the normal 37C/98.6F. Having a low normal temp does complicate things.

  19. Firebrand38 says: July 1, 20107:07 pm

    Toronto: Botulism? I’m glad that you survived that. That’s fascinating how it affected your body temp that way. May I ask how you contracted it?

  20. Toronto says: July 1, 20108:23 pm

    Firebrand: I was in the military at the time, and on a sports team that caused me to miss the dinner hour at the mess, so someone whipped something up for me (sausage/spinach pizza if I recall.) That was deemed the cause.

    It was pretty horrid, as you might expect. It semi-paralyzed me, making it hard to communicate, breathe, etc. I was very lucky my barracks mates realized it was serious. I think the acrid barfing and numb face helped somewhat – that’s not a very nice combination.

    I was hospitalized for a week or so, so missed most of the excitement back at the mess.

    I’d already had e.coli (from contaminated water) and salmonella (mild case), so I’ve had the big three, I suppose. Then there was the time I got 117 bee stings…

    By Viking rules, I’m now invulnerable.

  21. Firebrand38 says: July 1, 20108:39 pm

    Toronto: Only until another Immortal cuts off your head!

  22. Colin says: July 16, 20107:59 pm

    Bah, E.coli is your friend. I spent a whole year growing that stuff in a lab and making it resistant to all sorts of fun antibiotics and got it all over everything i own. As long as your otherwise healthy your all set. salmonella is the same way, but Botulism is one of the few exceptions to the dont kill you make you stronger rule…

  23. abbas khan says: January 31, 20123:42 am

    in thermometer why we use mecury

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