Who Was Anders Celsius?

22 February 2017, 16:00

So, who was Anders Celsius? Clearly, he is long since gone, as we asked who he was, not who he is? There is another crucial clue in his surname, of course, since he is the man who invented the Celsius temperature scale in common use today.

Anders was born on 27th November 1701 in Uppsala, Sweden. He was only 42 when he died on 25th April 1744, but in the intervening years he had made a name for himself as an astronomer and mathematician, among other things. He was a professor of astronomy at the Uppsala University, and it was in his birthplace that he founded the Uppsala Astronomical Observatory, too, just three years before his death. Indeed, he came up with the idea for the Celsius scale in 1742, only two years before he died. Thanks to that achievement, his name is common knowledge among millions around the world today – even though few would realise who he was or that he had invented the scale we know so well.

Much of what we know about the freezing and boiling points of water can be traced back to Celsius. Perhaps this should be no great surprise, since he was so involved with temperature in many ways. He did, however, create a thermometer which used a value of 100 degrees Celsius for water’s freezing point, and – you guessed it – zero degrees Celsius for boiling point. If someone called Carl Linnaeus hadn’t decided to switch those around a year after Celsius died, we would be using those measurements today too. Now, wouldn’t that be a strange way to measure things? Except, of course, it wouldn’t, as we would all be used to it by now.

He died from tuberculosis, but it is fair to say his life’s work had an immense effect on our understanding of temperature and so many other things as well. Today, you can still find the Uppsala Astronomical Observatory, which is researching many matters Celsius would no doubt have been fascinated in. It has been subjected to several mergers during its long life, mostly in recent years, but the work that goes on there is still of great importance.

If you have ever heard anyone referring to the Swedish thermometer, the Celsius thermometer is what they are referring to. And in case you ever wondered where the centigrade measurement came from, this was actually a different name for the same scale. Centigrade literally means ‘hundred steps’ in Latin. It was renamed as Celsius in honour of the man who created it.

So, the next time you watch a weather forecast, note the temperatures for the day or learn anything about the weather, bear in mind a certain Swedish man called Celsius. It turns out we have a lot to thank him for, even today.