Measurements of rainfall, reportedly made in antiquity, gathered steam during the scientific revolution. Americans were reporting rainfall measurements by the 1790s. Regents of the University of the State of New York established a system of meteorological observations in 1825, and distributed a thermometer and a rain gauge to each of the associated academies. Joseph Henry, then teaching natural philosophy at the Albany Academy, was involved with this project; and in 1827, was on the three-man team tasked with tabulating the results. Leading the effort was Simeon de Witt, Surveyor General of the Continental Army during the Revolution, and subsequently Surveyor General of the State of New York. Apparently dissatisfied with the results, de Witt described a conical rain gauge to the Albany Institute in 1830, and a modified version to the American Journal of Science in 1832.
Soon after becoming Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, Joseph Henry established a program to gather and disseminate information about weather across the country, and described standard instruments suitable for that purpose. The rain gauge consisted of a funnel—that was “terminated above by a cylindrical brass ring, bevelled into a sharp edge at the top, turned perfectly round in a lathe, and of precisely five inches diameter”—and that sat atop a two quart glass bottle. This replica of that Smithsonian instrument measures.5.25 inches diameter, and 14.5 inches high.
Ref: “Directions for Meteorological Observations,” Tenth Annual Report of the Regents of the Smithsonian Institution for 1855 (Washington, D.C., 1856), pp. 229-231.
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