The Hometown History column is presented by the Fenton History Center and The Post-Journal. Each Friday, a distinct item from the Fenton History Center collections or archival special collections will be featured. Learn about your hometown history through parts of its past.
If one of the items featured brings back some memories or brings up a question, please contact the Fenton History Center at 664-6256 or firstname.lastname@example.org to share your memory or get an answer to your question.
Pictured is an advertisement from the early 1900s that included a thermometer. This item is in the exhibit of 'Local Advertising Give Aways' at the Fenton History Center.
Over the past couple of weeks, there have been numerous high temperature records equaled or broken around the country. It has been hot.
The media sometimes says "the mercury is rising" or maybe even "the mercury has risen to new heights." There are probably a number of the younger generations who do not know why those phrases are being used.
From 1959 to 1963, the headlines may have included such terms because of Project Mercury, which put the first American in space. Today the phrases refer to the old type thermometers which used mercury for the material that expanded or contracted to show the temperature according to the scale on the thermometer.
Many of today's thermometers appear to be nothing but a screen on which a number appears; even your car can tell you what the temperature is outside. The mechanism to measure the temperature is not seen.
Thermometers have been with us for centuries. Early ones were called thermoscopes. They showed changes in temperature, but did not measure it. In 1724, Daniel Gabriel Fahrenheit created his standardized scale to measure the changes and created the modern thermometer. He first used alcohol in the thermometer and later he used mercury. His standardized scale is still used today. Celsius or Centigrade and Kelvin are the other two scales used to measure temperature.
Alcohol and mercury are the two materials used in early to modern thermometers. Some countries and medical facilities have banned the use of mercury thermometers because of the toxic qualities of mercury. Mercury vapors, especially, are toxic and can cause mercury poisoning. Those who made hats in the 18th and 19th centuries used mercury in the felting process, and many of these hatters probably developed mercury poisoning, giving rise to the term "mad as a hatter."
Diary entries over the last couple of centuries often begin with a recording of the weather and sometimes the temperature. It was in 1870 that the Weather Bureau was created by a joint resolution in Congress and signed by President Grant.
Meteorological observations were to be made at military stations and at other points in the states and territories and to give notice on the Great Lakes and the seacoast of the approach and force of storms. Before that the Smithsonian Institution had collected weather data from various academies, including the Jamestown and Fredonia academies. The data was collected by the month, so it was not used to predict storms.
The thermometer in the picture is one from the collection of the Fenton History Center. It is included in a picture that was given out as advertising. In the 1900s, thermometers were a popular item to be part of advertising giveaways. Sometimes desk calendars included a small thermometer. So this summer, remember that "the mercury is rising" refers to the temperature heading towards hot.
The purpose of the Fenton History Center is to gather and teach about southern Chautauqua County's history through artifacts, ephemeral and oral histories, and other pieces of the past.
Visit www.fentonhistorycenter.org for more information on upcoming events.
If you would like to donate to the collections or support the work of the Fenton History Center, call 664-6256 or visit the center at 67 Washington St., just south of the Washington Street Bridge.