News From Terre Haute, Indiana

History

July 22, 2012

HISTORICAL TREASURE: Tracking history’s temperature

This week's Historic Treasure is one of those gadgets that we tend to take for granted today, the thermometer. A thermometer is a device that measures temperature. The name itself comes from the Greek, thermos meaning “hot,” and metron meaning “measure.” The ancient Greeks knew of the principle that certain substances expanded and contracted but the concept of temperature was yet to arise.

A thermometer has only two basic parts, a sealed container, (the bulb), for the sensitive substance, (either mercury or alcohol) and the numeric scale. The thermometer was not a single invention, however, but a development with several scientists refining the instrument. The first person to put a scale on the device is said to be either Francesco Sagredo or Santorio Santorio in 1611-13. Robert Fludd drew the first diagram of a thermometer in 1638, and Daniel Gabriel Fahrenheit invented the first mercury thermometer, the modern thermometer in 1724.

Today thermometers are everywhere, in all sizes and shapes. They’re often given away as promotional items for advertising. The thermometer shown is from the 1950s. Mary Lynn Crocker of DeKalb, Ill., donated it to the Historical Society in 2011. On the back is engraved: “Compliments of the Terre Haute Advertising Company, 1317 Poplar Street. Makers of thermometers, calendars, pencils, fine leather goods and novelties.” Why don’t you come visit the Historical Society before temperatures get into the Kelvin territory?

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