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Fahrenheit vs. Celsius

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  Teri Lapping  —  Grammar Tips
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Fahrenheit vs. Celsius

The Fahrenheit Temperature Scale and the Celsius Temperature Scale are both systems which measure weather temperatures. 

What is the history of these two systems?
What are the differences between these two systems? 
Which countries use which system? 
Which system is better?

In this article, we will answer these questions.

A Brief History of Temperature Scales

In 1654, the first thermometer was developed by Ferdinand II, the Grand Duke of Toscani. This thermometer was made of a basic tube, filled with water or alcohol, that reacted to changes in temperature. It did not measure this reaction in degrees, and it was not standardized to real life occurrences, such as water freezing or melting.

In 1701, Sir Isaac Newton corelated the point of 0-degrees with the melting of ice, and the point of 33-degrees with the approximate temperature of boiling water.

The Fahrenheit Temperature Scale

In 1714, German-Dutch scientist Gabriel Fahrenheit created a glass thermometer filled with mercury. This thermometer became the basis for today’s thermometer. 

How does it work? 

Temperature increases in the external environment cause the mercury to expand, and these volume changes in the fluid determine the temperature.

G. Fahrenheit set the point of 0-degrees on his thermometer to approximate the lowest temperature he could create; that is, the coldest temperature he could obtain from a mixture of water and salt - colder even than a freezing winter night or the freezing point of water. 

Keeping that 0-degree point as an anchor, he then discovered that the freezing point of water was 32- degrees. Continuing up the scale, he set the temperature of a human body at 96-degrees. Even hotter still, the boiling point of water was measured at 212-degrees. The difference between the freezing point and the boiling point was an even 180-degrees, a number that was easy to manipulate.

The English-speaking world quickly adopted the Fahrenheit system of temperature measurement, and it became the temperature standard for industrial, medical, and climatic purposes until the late 1960s.

In fact, until this day, the Fahrenheit system is the accepted standard in the United States, the Bahamas, the Federated States of Micronesia, the Marshall Islands, and the Cayman Islands. 

Both systems are used in Belize, Bermuda, and the British Virgin Islands. Fahrenheit is still used for weather broadcasts in some other English-speaking countries by people born before the 1950s.

The Celsius Temperature Scale

In 1742, astronomer Anders Celsius from Sweden created a second way of measuring temperature. The Celsius system was different from the Fahrenheit system in that it had a range of 100 degrees between the freezing point of water and the boiling point of water. 
At first, A. Celsius set 0-degrees as the boiling point of water and 100-degrees as the freezing point of water. But this was counter-intuitive: the lower number represented the hotter temperature, and the higher number represented the colder temperature, so that the thermometer went up as the temperature went down.

After a year, A. Celsius reversed this, and 0-degrees became the colder of the numbers. 

In the beginning, A. Celsius called his system the Centigrade scale, from the Latincentimeaninga hundred steps.” Today, the system is called the Celsius scale, in honor of its creator, and it is the system used in almost all countries. 

Which is better, Fahrenheit or Celsius?

At the beginning, the Celsius system had an overt advantage over the Fahrenheit system: it was based on multiples of ten, just like the new and increasingly popular metric system that was spreading like wildfire around the non-English speaking world. 

Soon, France adopted both the Celsius system and the metric system, and most other countries followed suit.  In the 1960s, the Celsius system and the metric system were implemented on a world-wide scale as part of an overall standardization process. 

Is the Celsius System part of the Metric System?

Most people assumed that the Celsius system was connected to the easy-to-use metric system. But this was not true. Celsius measurements of temperature are not connected in any way to metric measurements of space and volume. Celsius is no more metric than Fahrenheit, but people assume that they are part of the same system and automatically adopt the two together. 

When we look at ease of use, Celsius seems to have the edge over Fahrenheit: in Celsius, 0-degrees is freezing, and 100-degrees is boiling – this is easy to remember.

However, 100-degrees Fahrenheit is also easy to remember, and significantly, it is close to the temperature of our body, making it a relevant number. 

It is interesting that the weather extremes found in the United States and in Europe fall between 0-degrees and 100-degrees Fahrenheit, seldom getting much hotter or much colder. If we look at those same temperatures in Celsius, we find the equivalent of -18-degrees to +38-degrees; clearly, those numbers are a bit more awkward. 

Final Thoughts

If you live in the United States, you are probably very comfortable with the Fahrenheit system until you decide to travel elsewhere in the world. Then, you have to choose your clothing and your activities based on a weather forecast that is suddenly in Celsius. 

If you do not live in the United States, you are perfectly comfortable living your life by the Celsius system. When you are planning your trip to the States, you will need to become familiar with the Fahrenheit system.

It does seem a bit inefficient that the two systems exist side by side, relatively equal but different. With technology shrinking the size of the world, we might see one system fade out of fashion while the other becomes the worldwide victor: my guess is that ultimately, the Celsius Temperature Scale will win.  

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