Make it Celsius, if you will

Miles, yards, feet, inches, and … Daniel Fahrenheit!

From my Writing Room

Copyright © 2020 by Uwe Bahr

Referring to my previous blog about the indispensable transition from a ruthless American economic system comprising certain semblance with elements of 19th century capitalism, another absolutely innocuous subject matter comes to mind that nonetheless carries quite some nostalgic smack with it. Although it is, without doubt, also of far less importance in light of current social problems, the matter nevertheless reveals the sometimes hilarious, widespread mentality in a country where many folks are serious in referring to a Second Amendment, which in recent decades has been completely turned on its head in terms of its original meaning written a cool 231 years ago and ratified two years later. As an aside: The man who penned the infamous lines of said Amendment – James “Jamie” Madison, who would later become the nation’s fourth president and the last of the founders to go – certainly had to use candle light for his literary fabric, provided he used his little quill either in the wee hours or later at night.

Even a bit more ancient than the presumptive law of the gun most Americans deluding themselves with, is their procedure to figure out what the temperature of the day or night might be. In doing so and in a slightly mispronounced style, they use a man’s name who was of German ancestry, born in the year of 1686 in the city of Danzig at the Baltic Sea, back then under the rule of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. I have been to Danzig, which today belongs to Poland and is named Gdansk, several times in the 70’s and 80’s. Its downtown is certainly the most magnificent I have ever seen. According to my father, who knew Danzig from his childhood, the historic inner-city was restored almost to the detail after heavy air raids and besiegement at the end of World War II had reduced to rubble nearly the entire city.

The subject of our story – Americans are more familiar with the name than almost anybody else in the world – is Daniel Gabriel Fahrenheit, the man from Danzig who in 1724 invented the thermometer in conjunction with the scale named after him. He basically is the father of the mercury-in-glass thermometer, which scale became the first standardized measuring unit to be widely used for temperature.

Only a few years later, in 1742, the Swedish astronomer, physicist, and mathematician Anders Celsius (1701-1744) introduced the Celsius scale, an improvement and to date in conventional use throughout the entire Western world of contemporary style. Celsius’ method provided more accuracy, not least because of its conversion to a decimal system.

There are sources claiming that Fahrenheit was furthermore used worldwide to measure temperatures until the 1970’s. Such assertion catches me by surprise, for as somebody growing up in the – what we considered it back then – underdeveloped ages of Socialism, I can only state that, at the time and at least from the 1960’s on, there was not a single country at least in Europe using Fahrenheit instead Celsius. Even the expression was unbeknownst to us. As for Germany, I can say with certainty that most people including me were at loose ends with the term already back then, not to mention the significance of the man who invented the thermometer almost 300 years ago. This certainly constituted a lack of knowledge as well.

At least, Americans today are not completely alone in this world to hold unswerving faith with Mr. Daniel Gabriel Fahrenheit. According to researchers, the Fahrenheit scale is used to date by the following countries: Marshall Islands, Bahamas, Cayman Islands, Liberia, Palau, The Federal States of Micronesia, and – you bet – The United States of America.

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