Saxton Metallic Thermometer

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Joseph Saxton, an accomplished scientist, inventor, and mechanician, joined the staff of the U.S. Coast Survey in 1844 at the request of the new Superintendent, Alexander Dallas Bache, and began developing instruments for measuring various terrestrial phenomena. Among the first was a metallic thermometer for use in deep water. Bache described this in 1848, saying that it proved “decidedly the most convenient” of the several forms tried. The thermometer coil was “like that of Breguet, only of much stouter material, and of two metals, silver and platinum, soldered together.” And the “plan of registering resembles that adopted by Jurgensen of Copenhagen, and by Montandon of Washington, in their metallic thermometers.”
Several of Saxton’s thermometers were made in the Coast Survey’s instrument shop, and were still in use at the start of World War I. This example came to the Smithsonian in 1929. Here the thermometer is held in a brass cylinder that is encased in a hexagonal frame. The cap of the cylinder is marked “SAXTON’S / METALLIC THERMOMETER / 17.” The scale around the circumference of the thermometer extends from -40 to +174 degrees Fahrenheit; one of the two pointers registers the lowest temperature to which the thermometer was exposed.
Ref: [A. D. Bache], Report of the superintendent of the coast survey, showing the progress of the work during the year ending November, 1848, p. 39.
Bache, “Lecture on the Gulf Stream, prepared at the request of the American Association for the Advancement of Science,” Report of the Superintendent of the Coast Survey during the Year 1860, pp. 165-176, on 166.
Currently not on view
date made
Saxton, Joseph
place made
United States: District of Columbia, Washington
frame: 12 in; 30.48 cm
overall: 12 1/8 in x 4 in x 2 7/8 in; 30.7975 cm x 10.16 cm x 7.3025 cm
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
Credit Line
U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey
See more items in
Medicine and Science: Physical Sciences
Measuring & Mapping
Thermometers and Hygrometers
Data Source
National Museum of American History