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Why Daniel Fahrenheit would have loved Seattle

Why Daniel Fahrenheit would have loved Seattle
File photo of thermometer showing 100 degrees, courtesy Flickr contributor sundazed
Scott's note: When this article was originally published on July 21, 2009, Seattle's all-time record high was 100 degrees. Then, just eight days later, we hit an incredible 103 degrees, making part of this blog entry now moot, but still an interesting story :)

The metric system is considered the gold standard across most of the world, and the reasoning behind the measurements make quite a bit of sense.

For example -- temperature. The Celsius scale is quite simple: 0 is the freezing point of water, and 100 is the boiling point.

Yet here, we base our temperature scale off what Daniel Fahrenheit's idea of what would make a good temperature scale. But in a world of round numbers, how did he end up with 32 degrees as the freezing point of water, and 212 for boiling?

According to Cecil Adams at straightdope.com, Daniel Fahrenheit developed the thermometer, but asked a Danish astronomer Ole Romer what he should use for the scale.

Romer noted that the number 60 has a significant base in science, since there are 60 seconds in a minute, 60 minutes in an hour, etc. So he thought 60 should be the boiling point of water and 0 should be "as cold as it ever got in Denmark" (because who likes negative numbers?)

That set the freezing point of water at 7.5 degrees. And apparently if there's one thing worse than negative numbers in science, it's fractions. So Fahrenheit decided the way to get rid of the fractions was to multiply everything by four. (Because simply doubling would....???) That brought us to 30 degrees for freezing and 240 for boiling water. The scale then got multiplied by 1.067 (16/15ths -- maybe fractions aren't so bad after all) but we're not sure why.

There's more amusing twists to the story in Adams' column, (such as, did you know the Celsius scale was originally upside-down?) but long and short of it, after some other shenanigans and further measurements, we came to the current scale, which has 32 degrees for freezing water, 212 degrees for boiling water, and 98.6 degrees for body temperature, meaning the dreaded fraction ultimately won out.

Anyway, a few interesting tidbits out of this is that it turns out, Romer was pretty good at setting zero as "as cold as it ever gets in Denmark" because to this day, the all time record low temperature in Copenhagen is 0 degrees F.

But he could have set all of this craziness aside had he grown up and lived in Seattle. (Sure, Seattle wasn't founded in the early 1700s, but work with me here...) In fact, Seattle makes the perfect Fahrenheit scale, with its all time record high at 100 degrees, and its all time record low at 0 degrees -- no fractions, and no messy negative numbers.

Take that, Anders Celsius!