Who invented the Graduated Cylinder? (Invention Timeline Explained)

There’s a saying that goes, “you’re only as good as your tools.” For as long as humanity has existed, they’ve always thrived in the realm of problem solving, always looking for ways to manipulate and understand nature. In the field of science, there are many precise tools required to make precise measurements. One such tool is the graduated cylinder, and it’s fascinating to look into the history of individual measuring instruments.

The graduated cylinder is used to precisely measure liquid, though the concept of measuring liquids has existed long before. Here’s a quick look into the invention of the graduated cylinder, as well as a look into its timeline!

Who invented the graduated cylinder?

The distinction goes to a particularly famous individual: Albert Einstein. His reasons for inventing the graduated cylinder was simple, as he needed an instrument capable of measuring liquid. Sometimes, when you need something and it doesn’t exist, you have to invent it!

The graduated cylinder’s key contributors (and evolution)

  • The Indus Valley Civilization
    One of the first known civilizations

    The fascinating thing about the Indus Valley Civilization is that it is known as one of the very first civilizations, while at the same time being some of the first people to consider the measurements of liquids through seed counting.

  • Egyptians
    Had similar methods for measuring liquids

    When it comes to the measurement of the contents of pottery, the Egyptians used similar methods to the Indus Valley Civilization. 

  • Greeks
    Used measuring pottery to measure liquids

    In the 8th century, the ancient Greeks adopted a system of using measuring pottery to make general measurement much easier.

  • Albert Einstein
    Inventor of the graduated cylinder

    Just about everyone knows who Albert Einstein is! Aside from his many accomplishments, he also invented the graduated cylinder.

When was the graduated cylinder invented?

Albert Einstein invented the graduated cylinder to help with the measuring of liquids in 1909. It caught on quickly, and modern laboratories the world over have graduated cylinders.

A brief history of the graduated cylinder

To talk about graduated cylinders is to talk about the concept of measuring liquids. It’s something mankind has needed to do for a very long time, which is why the concept of measuring liquids can be found in the 4rth and 3rd millennia. The Indus Valley Civilization, also known as the very first civilization, had an interesting means of measuring the contents of pottery. It was a civilization that focused on trading more than anything else, which meant it was crucial to measure specific items for trade.

When it came to the measuring of liquids and other content in pottery, they used bird seed to get the job done. The container was filled with bird seed up to the desired amount, and then the ancient humans would count each seed to help figure out the measurement of specific containers. It wasn’t exactly the most efficient process, but it got the job done.

The ancient Egyptians had something similar to the Indus Valley when it came to measurement, though that didn’t last. Eventually the idea of measuring pottery grew in popularity, and the ancient Greeks ended up using it as their primary means of measuring liquids. Such a method worked well enough for the time, though there is no stopping progress. As the years passed by, eventually people needed a more precise instrument when measuring liquids as the experiments grew more advanced.

In 1909, Albert Einstein invented the graduated cylinder to help with more accurate experiments. Humankind will always find ways to make things better, especially when it comes to measuring equipment and tools that herald forward progress. It doesn’t stop at the graduated cylinder either! Eventually the pipette was created, though the graduated cylinder is still relatively popular, and you’ll find them in most modern laboratories.

The graduated cylinder timeline

  1. 2500 BC
    The Indus Valley and the Egyptian civilizations

    Some of the very first civilizations known to man, both the Indus Valley and the Egyptian civilizations made a habit of using bird seed for measurement. It was an accurate means of measurement, but took a long time to manage correctly. The bird seed method was crucial for trading.

  2. 700 BC
    The Greeks

    The ancient Greeks had a more advanced method of measuring liquids. They used measuring pottery, which made it much easier to figure things out.

  3. 1909
    Albert Einstein

    A man of many talents and contributions, he’s also known for the invention of the graduated cylinder. The graduated cylinder is one of the most common laboratory instruments for measurement.

Where was the graduated cylinder invented?

Considering that Albert Einstein moved to Switzerland around 1895, it’s safe to say that the graduated cylinder was created in Switzerland, as it was invented in 1909.

The importance of the graduated cylinder

  • An accurate means of measuring liquid

    Considering that a scientist is only as good as the measuring instruments they use, there’s no denying that the graduated cylinder is an important invention. It’s an accurate means of measuring liquid, opening the door for more experimentation, as scientists routinely used it for various experiments over the years.

  • A spark of progress

    So long as humanity intends to keep moving forward, there will always be inventions similar to the graduated cylinder. There are many more measuring instruments out there with similar origin stories, and each one is a spark of progress.

  • A simple and easy apparatus of measurement

    It’s odd to consider the graduated cylinder was invented as late as 1909 when you consider how easy it is to use. Albert Einstein needed something accessible and convenient but still accurate enough to get the job done, and the graduated cylinder is the result.

  • Helped spark the invention of similar measuring equipment

    Sometimes, all it takes is a push in the right direction, and the invention of the graduated cylinder undoubtedly built the foundation for similar measuring instruments in the future.

The graduated cylinder by the numbers

  • 0.1The most accurate reading on a graduated cylinder goes down to 0.1 mL. There are more advanced measuring instruments such as the volumetric flask and the pipette, but what the graduated cylinder could do, it could do well.
  • 329As far as the graduated cylinder’s ability to take heat, the borosilicate glass cylinders can withstand temperatures up to 329°F (165°C). They could also withstand thermal shock.
  • 0.02The number of kilograms of an empty 25mL graduated cylinder. The graduated cylinder is a simple instrument, and is generally quite easy to handle. It’s especially easy for the graduated cylinders made from plastic. You’ll have to take care when handling the ones made from glass, though they can handle heat quite a lot more than the plastic counterpart.
  • 2-26The amphorae found to be used by the ancient Greeks for measuring liquids came in all shapes and sizes, from 2 to 26 liters.

Five facts about the graduated cylinder

  • The margin of error

    When it comes to the typical margin of error for the graduated cylinder, it goes from 0.5 to 1%. For example, if you’re using a 100mL graduated cylinder, that’s .5 to 1mL.

  • More accurate than the beaker

    The reason why the graduated cylinder is more accurate than the beaker comes with the name of the instrument. It’s mainly due to the incremental graduations incorporated in the instrument.

  • Taking care of the graduated cylinder

    If you want to properly maintain a graduated cylinder for laboratory use, the process is simple. All you have to do is triple rinse the instrument with a compatible solvent, followed by a tap water rinse. Afterwards, make sure to air dry the graduated cylinder.

  • The curved shape

    When you measure liquids in the graduated cylinder, you’ll notice that the surface will take on a curved shape. That curved shape is called the meniscus. It’s developed in such a way that the bottom of the meniscus at eye level is the most accurate means of reading a graduated cylinder.

  • Size availability

    Graduated cylinders are available in three sizes. You can go for the 500mL, 1000mL, and the 2000mL cylinder in 5mL, 10mL, and 20mL increments.

FAQ about the graduated cylinder

  • What’s so important about the graduated cylinder?

    The graduated cylinder represents humanity’s penchant for solving problems. Albert Einstein needed an accessible way to measure liquids, and so he decided to invent a measuring instrument that can get the job done. Humanity will always look to solve problems through invention and innovation.

  • Is the graduated cylinder the best instrument for measuring liquids?

    Keep in mind that graduated cylinders are meant to easily and accurately measure liquids. There are other instruments out there, such as the volumetric flask, the pipette, and even the beaker. However, the graduated cylinder is the best combination of accuracy and ease-of-use.

  • Is it possible to measure a solid using a graduated cylinder?

    Surprisingly enough, you can measure certain solids using a graduated cylinder. While the instrument is meant to measure liquids, you can use that concept to measure the solid in its own way. You can use the water displacement method to successfully measure a solid using the instrument.

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