​Almanac: Daniel Fahrenheit

fahrentheit-thermometer-christies-244b.jpg
In 2012 this Fahrenheit thermometer - one of only a few signed originals known to exist - was sold at auction for $107,802.
Christie's

And now a page from our "Sunday Morning" Almanac: May 24, 1686, 329 years ago today ... a day for temperate celebration.

For that was the birthday of Daniel Gabriel Fahrenheit, the European physicist who used purified mercury to create the first modern thermometer.

Fahrenheit also invented his namesake temperature scale, where water freezes at 32 degrees, and boils at 212.

For centuries, Fahrenheit's mercury thermometer was the standard in countless fields, including medicine.

A somewhat overheated British industrial film from 1953 followed the thermometer-making process step-by-step:

"The tubing must be perfectly straight, so she's gauging it for possible twists, but few of these thermometer strips fail to measure up to the highest degree of accuracy! ... A high standard of manufacture, great care taken to pack them up, and the result is, we hope, to save many of us from 'packing up.'"

Today, modern digital thermometers have largely replaced mercury devices in doctors' offices and hospitals.

And in most of the world outside the United States, Fahrenheit's temperature scale has largely been replaced by Centigrade, where water freezes at zero degrees, and boils at 100.

Still, there remains good reason to salute Daniel Fahrenheit's contributions:

How hot is hot?
How cold is cold?
A vexing problem in days of old.
Back then it was almost cause for derision,
To claim to take temperatures with precision.
The first to do it,
And do it right,
Was Daniel Gabriel Fahrenheit.