The barometer was invented in 1644 by the Italian Evangista Torricelli who discovered that the height of a mercury column that could be supported by atmospheric pressure varied between 28 and 31 inches (71 and 79 centimetres). As it came to be recognised that atmospheric pressure could be used to predict the weather, barometers became popular household items.
Early “stick” barometers based on Torricelli’s column of mercury were usually made of walnut. After about 1720, other woods such as pear and satinwood became popular. Early barometers were usually made by clockmakers and were hung near clocks and, so, often resembled clocks in design.
Robert Hooke made an improved the stick barometer, known as a “wheel” or “banjo” barometer. In this, the mercury column is bent into a U shape at the bottom. A float, attached to a thread controls a point on a circular dial on which even minor changes in pressure can be easily seen.
For about 200 years, both wheel and stick types were sold with little variation from their original designs.
In 1844, the aneroid barometer, which measures pressure by the expansion and contraction of a small, evacuated metal drum, was invented. This enabled the manufacture of much smaller barometers which could be mounted on a decorative wall plaque, on a plinth like a mantle clock or even carried in the pocket. Aneroid barometers were particularly popular from the 1880s to the early 20th century.
With the development of radio and broadcast weather forecast, the popularity of barometers declined.
Did you know?
The first barometer with “remarks” on how to forecast the weather printed on the scale was designed by Admiral Fitzroy who, as a Lieutenant, had commanded the “Beagle” on its famous voyage with Charles Darwin.