Vintage Thermometers

Vintage thermometers were once a staple of many households, a common household item that helped keep track of the family’s health. Using the principle of expansion and contraction with changes in temperature, these simple devices have morphed over the centuries into an enormous variety of shapes, sizes and designs. Some are incredibly intricate and others are quite plain. While they are not as popular today as they were decades ago, these antiques continue to be a hot commodity and can range in price from 99 cents to $8,349.

The oldest known vintage thermometers was invented by the Greek philosopher Hippocrates around the 5th century BC. It consisted of a glass tube filled with water and calibrated markings. Hippocrates’ early thermometer was not very accurate but it did give him an idea of the relationship between air and temperature.

In the 18th century, French chemist and physician Antoine-Laurent Reaumur devised a more accurate mercury thermometer that worked by measuring the height of liquid inside a glass tube. His original thermometer was incredibly long at over 1.6 meters (5.2 feet) and the first successful thermometers were a mere inch or two in length. Reaumur’s new thermometer was more sensitive to temperature change than the previous instruments and it also allowed for comparison between different thermometers.

Reaumur’s success was due to the fact that his instrument used a much more delicate liquid than the earlier models, and this helped create a more precise reading. He also developed a scale that made it easier to read the temperatures. The Reaumur scale was later modified into the Celsius scale that we are accustomed to today.

During the late 1800s, thermometer manufacturers began to make advertising devices that would be displayed in storefront windows. These devices were shaped in a multitude of ways and adorned with colorful scenes and graphics that reflected the business that they represented. Depending on the manufacturer and design, some were round and often featured clock-like hands, while others were rectangular. Some were designed to resemble other household objects like bottles of soda and even cars.

In addition to promoting a particular store or business, these advertising thermometers were also a great way for companies to reach a wide audience. They could be found in homes across the country and even on display at World’s Fair expositions. One such thermometer, which was embossed with the 1939 World’s Fair theme “Peace Through Understanding,” is a rare find and features an image of the fair’s symbolic Trylon and Perisphere monuments.

In the 1940s, a popular type of advertising thermometer was manufactured from Masonite, a form of wood. These devices were commonly found in drug stores and had a wide variety of styles and themes to choose from. This type of device was particularly popular with women who wanted to monitor the temperature of their breasts. Thermometers of this type were sometimes sold with a matching ring to hold the probe. Others were simply hung above a mantel or on a kitchen cabinet.