Physics and Chemistry

Temperature, Measurement, and Methodology

Who invented the thermometer?

The Greeks of Alexandria knew that air expanded as it was heated. Hero of Alexandria (first century C.E.) and Philo of Byzantium made simple “thermoscopes,” but they were not real thermometers. In 1592, Galileo Galilei (1564–1642) made a kind of thermometer that also functioned as a barometer, and in 1612 his friend Santorio Santorio (1561–1636) adapted the air thermometer (a device in which a colored liquid was driven down by the expansion of air) to measure the body’s temperature change during illness and recovery. Still, it was not until 1713 that Daniel Fahrenheit (1686–1736) began developing a thermometer with a fixed scale. He worked out his scale from two “fixed” points: the melting point of ice and the heat of the healthy human body. He realized that the melting point of ice was a constant temperature, whereas the freezing point of water varied. Fahrenheit put his thermometer into a mixture of ice, water, and salt (which he marked off as 0°) and using this as a starting point, marked off melting ice at 32° and blood heat at 96°. In 1835, it was discovered that normal blood measured 98.6°F. Sometimes Fahrenheit used spirit of wine as the liquid in the thermometer tube, but more often he used specially purified mercury. Later, the boiling point of water (212°F) became the upper fixed point.


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