Special mountain thermometer

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made in Edinburgh

Postcard of Special mountain thermometer.
© National Museums Scotland

Special mountain thermometer

One way of measuring the heights of mountains is by barometric pressure. Another is by measuring the temperature of boiling water, as the higher you go, the lower the temperature that water boils. This is part of a special apparatus designed by James David Forbes (1809-68) for use in experiments in the Alps in the 1840s. The thermometer was made by 'Mr Adie', probably John Adie, while the rest of the instrument, now missing, was constructed by another Edinburgh instrument maker, Peter Stevenson.

This special thermometer, made for use in experiments in the Alps, is a mercury-in-glass thermometer with a bulb which fits into a special screwed-top vessel (lacking). The lead scale is inscribed at the top 'ADIE & SON / Edinburgh', and marked from 185 degrees to 210 degrees at 1, .5 and .05 degree intervals, and at 212 degrees [Fahrenheit] marked 'W.B.' [water boils] on the side of the scale marked 'Barometer 30 in.' It is in a fitted case, covered in maroon morocco leather.

Forbes became professor of natural philosophy (physics) at the University of Edinburgh in 1833, at the age of 24. He was particularly interested in the nature of heat, and when ill-health forced him to go abroad for large part of his time, he went to the invigorating air of the Alps. There he became the first to scientifically study the phenomenon of glaciers, but his claim to be the first observer of their veined structure and other characteristics was contested by Louis Agassiz and John Tyndall, amongst others.

Record details

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Online ID: 000-180-000-995-C
Image Rights Holder: National Museums Scotland
Project: 0504: National Museums Scotland Part 2
Project description | View all records in project
Ref: National Museums Scotland  T.1984.54
Date: Around 1840
c. 1840
What: Thermometer
Who: Adie and Son, Edinburgh (Maker)
Where: Scotland, Midlothian, Edinburgh
Description: Mountaion thermometer by Adie and Son, Edinburgh, 1844
  • Clarke, T.N, A.D. Morrison-Low and A.D.C. Simpson. Brass & Glass: Scientific Instrument making Workshops in Scotland. Edinburgh, 1989, p 43. 
  • For Forbes and glaciology, see Cunningham, Frank F. James David Forbes, pioneer Scottish glaciologist. Edinburgh, 1990. 
  • Forbes, J.D. On the determination of heights by the boiling point of water. Transaction of the Royal Society of Edinburgh 15 (1844), pp 409-416. 
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