Anders Celsius: History of the Celsius Scale

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In 1742, Swedish astronomer, Anders Celsius invented the Celsius temperature scale, which was named after the inventor.

Anders Celsius early became engaged in the general problem of weights and measures, including temperature measurements.

Already as a student, he assisted the astronomy professor Erik Burman in meteorology observations.

At that time there existed a large variety of thermometers with different scales.

Perhaps he already at this stage realized the necessity of a common international scale.

A temperature scale must be based on one or two standard temperatures, called fixed points.

For those, it was natural to choose temperatures within the temperature domain of practical interest, i.e. from about plus forty to minus twenty in modern Celsius degrees.

Thermometers were simply used in meteorology, in horticulture, and sometimes for indoor use.

As fixed points, one could use the human body temperature or temperatures of local origin such as the observatory cellar in Paris or the highest temperature in the sunshine in London.

Of course, also the freezing and boiling points of water were used, but it was not self-evident that they really were universal and e.g. independent of the geographic latitude.

Anders Celsius

Celsius Temperature Scale

The Celsius temperature scale is also referred to as the centigrade scale. Centigrade means “consisting of or divided into 100 degrees“. The Celsius scale, invented by Swedish Astronomer Anders Celsius (1701-1744), has 100 degrees between the freezing point (0 C) and boiling point (100 C) of pure water at sea level air pressure.

The term “Celsius” was adopted in 1948 by an international conference on weights and measures.

Anders Celsius

Anders Celsius was born in Uppsala, Sweden in 1701, where he succeeded his father as professor of astronomy in 1730.

It was there that he built Sweden’s first observatory in 1741, the Uppsala Observatory, where he was appointed the director.

He devised the centigrade scale or “Celsius scale” of temperature in 1742.

He was also noted for his promotion of the Gregorian calendar, and his observations of the aurora borealis.

Anders Celsius

In 1733, his collection of 316 observations of the aurora borealis was published and in 1737 he took part in the French expedition sent to measure one degree of the meridian in the polar regions.

In 1741, he directed the building of Sweden’s first observatory.

One of the major questions of that time was the shape of the Earth. Isaac Newton had proposed that the Earth was not completely spherical but rather flattened at the poles.

Cartographic measuring in France suggested that it was the other way around – the Earth was elongated at the poles.

In 1735, one expedition sailed to Ecuador in South America, and another expedition traveled to Northern Sweden. Celsius was the only professional astronomer on that expedition.

Anders Celsius

Their measurements seemed to indicate that the Earth actually was flattened at the poles.

Anders Celsius was not only an inventor and astronomer but also a physicist.

He and an assistant discovered that the Aurora Borealis had an influence on compass needles.

However, the thing that made him famous is his temperature scale, which he based on the boiling and melting points of water.

This scale, an inverted form of Celsius’ original design, was adopted as the standard and is used in almost all scientific work.

Anders Celsius

Anders Celsius died in 1744, at the age of 42.

He had started many other research projects but finished few of them.

Among his papers was a draft of a science fiction novel, situated partly on the star Sirius.


*This article was originally published at

By | 2017-10-30T02:34:53+00:00 June 12th, 2017|Categories: Inventions, Public Figures|Tags: , |0 Comments

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