Bath Thermometer

Bathing, whether for cleanliness or health, was not a common practice in Colonial America, or even Great Britain, and only became so over time. This bath thermometer indicates this changing practice. It was probably owned by John William Draper (1811-1882), an American scientist with wide-ranging interests and accomplishments and who kept in touch with friends and colleagues abroad.
This is a simple mercury-in-glass thermometer designed for determining when bath water is at a healthy temperture. The scale extends from 0 to 130 degrees, and is marked "Dr. FORBES SPECIFICATIONS" as well as "FREEZING"; "COLD BATH"; "COOL"; "TEM."; "TEPID"; "WARM"; and "HOT." The reference is to John Forbes, a Scottish physician who recommended therapeutic bathing.
Ref. Richard Bushmann and Claudia Bushmann, “The Early History of Cleanliness in America,” Journal of American History 74 (1988): 1213-1238.
John Forbes, et. al., The Cyclopaedia of Practical Medicine (London, 1833), vol. 1, p. 260.
Currently not on view
Object Name
date made
early 19th century
overall: 6 3/4 in; 17.145 cm
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
Measuring & Mapping
Health & Medicine
Thermometers and Hygrometers
See more items in
Medicine and Science: Physical Sciences
Thermometers and Hygrometers
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
Credit Line
John William Christopher Draper and James Christopher Draper

Visitor Comments

Add a comment about this object

**Please read before submitting the form**

Have a comment or question about this object to share with the community? Please use the form below. Selected comments will appear on this page and may receive a museum response (but we can't promise). Please note that we generally cannot answer questions about the history, rarity, or value of your personal artifacts.

Have a question about anything else, or would you prefer a personal response? Please visit our FAQ or contact page.

Personal information will not be shared or result in unsolicited e-mail. See our privacy policy.

Enter the characters shown in the image.