Who invented the Mercury Barometer? (Invention Timeline Explained)

These days, people know the barometer as a relatively simple device used to measure atmospheric pressure. In fact, not everyone knows about the function of the barometer, as there really isn’t any need to use a barometer outside of a few unique situations. It can also be used to predict weather in the short-term, due to changes in pressure.

Before the mercury barometer, it’s a little hard to believe that people thought air to be weightless. It was this very belief that spurred the beginnings of the mercury barometer, all the way up to its modern day iteration. Here’s a quick dive into the mercury barometer!

Who invented the mercury barometer?

The first person to challenge the theory of air’s weightlessness was Evangelista Torricelli. Even his teacher, Galileo Galilei, thought air to be weightless. The mercury barometer is a product of that line of questioning, ultimately proving the existence of air pressure in the process. Proving the force of a vacuum was an amazing discovery.

The mercury barometer’s key contributors (and evolution)

  • Gasparto Berii
    The unintentional creator of the barometer

    While Evangelista Torricelli would eventually prove the existence of air pressure, Gasparto Berii, a mathematician and astronomer, unintentionally built a water barometer a few years before.

  • Evangelista Torricelli
    Creator of the mercury barometer

    The discoverer of air pressure and the inventor of the mercury barometer, Evangelista Torricelli questioned what his teacher and everyone else thought to be fact — that air had no weight. His discovery led to a shift in the way people thought about the very air around us.

  • Pierre Petit and Blaise Pascal
    Improved on the concept of the mercury barometer

    Upon hearing of the invention from Marin Mersenne (who was shown the device by Torricelli), worked on the device and made further studies.

  • Florin Perier
    Proved Pascal’s predictions correct and perfected the mercury barometer

    Upon the application of the mercury barometer, Pascal showed his findings to his brother-in-law, Florin Perier, who helped to fully utilize the mercury barometer and perfect its function.

When was the mercury barometer invented?

The first known barometer — the mercury barometer — was invented in 1643. The reason why it needed the mercury in the first place is it needed to use a type of liquid that was heavier than water to create the barometer.

A brief history of mercury barometers

The invention of the mercury barometer isn’t just about the device itself, but rather what it meant to humanity moving forward. After all, we didn’t have all the answers about natural phenomena without thousands of years of study and innovation. In this case, the mercury barometer is all about proving the existence of atmospheric pressure — that the veritable ocean of air all around us was exerting pressure and had its own weight.

During Evangelista Torricelli’s time, the common consensus was that air was likely weightless. It wasn’t something anyone argued about, as the air certainly seemed weightless and it felt like any experimentation might be a waste. Technically, the first barometer was created by Gasparto Berii, but it was more of an unintentional discovery than anything else.

It wasn’t until Torricelli started to question the weightlessness of the air that things took an entirely different turn. Even his world-renowned teacher, Galileo Galilei didn’t think too much of it. Torricelli would experiment on his own, and he surmised that the weight of the air pushed down on water, which led to the creation of the mercury barometer.

Naturally, like-minded individuals didn’t sit still when Torricelli started to share his work. When Torricelli shared it with Marin Mersenne, he shared it with Pierre Petit and Blaise Pascal, who proceeded to recreate and formulate their own theories. Pascal, in particular, would get the help of his brother-in-law Florin Perier to fully utilize the mercury barometer and perfect its overall function.

After that, it was just a matter of time for the mercury barometer to grow and various other non-mercury barometers to be developed.

The mercury barometer timeline

  1. 1630-1640
    The potential creation of the first barometer

    The unintentional creation of the barometer occurred sometime between 1630-1640 by Gasparto Berii.

  2. 1643
    The invention of the mercury barometer

    Evangelista Torricelli invented the mercury barometer, and proved the existence of air pressure.

  3. 1646
    The year Blaise Pascal and Pierre Petit repeated the experiment

    1646 was the year Blaise Pascal and Pierre Petit took the information from Torricelli’s device and formulated their own experiments.

  4. 1648
    The perfection of the mercury barometer

    The year when Florin Perier took the device and performed experiments based on Blaise Pascal’s prediction. The mercury barometer was effectively perfected in September of 1648.

Where was the mercury barometer invented?

The mercury barometer was invented in Florence, Italy by Evangelista Torricelli.

The importance of the mercury barometer

  • The discovery of air pressure

    Before the mercury barometer, people thought that air was essentially weightless. It was only Evangelista Torricelli who felt the need to test that theory, eventually leading to the discovery of air pressure.

  • A short-term means of predicting the weather

    Changes in the weather usually start with a shift in air pressure. With the use of a mercury barometer, one could predict the weather in the short-term!

  • Shifting to the modern barometer

    Thanks to Torricelli’s invention, today’s modern barometers can do the same thing, only it’s entirely electronic. Modern tech wouldn’t be where it is now without the mercury barometer!

  • The excitement of progress

    The invention of the mercury barometer was a milestone due to the discovery that air has weight. It was an important enough discovery that various other inventors went right to work on recreating and perfecting the mercury barometer.

The mercury barometer by the numbers

  • 1844The year when the first barometer that didn’t use liquid — the aneroid barometer — was invented.
  • 1665The year when Robert Boyle devised the name of Torricelli’s device.
  • .03-.001The percentage showcasing the potential inaccuracy of the device, making the barometer an incredibly accurate invention.
  • 45The angle in degrees you hold a mercury barometer to test if it’s working correctly. The mercury will fill the tip of the tube pretty quickly to show that it’s working.

Five facts about the mercury barometer

  • The banning of mercury products in the US

    Due to the toxic nature of mercury, most states have banned the distribution of measuring devices using mercury — the mercury barometer included.

  • The general design of the mercury barometer

    Known as Torricelli’s Tube, the general design of the mercury barometer consists of a three-foot high glass tube. It’s closed on one end, with a reservoir of mercury on the other.

  • Paving the way for the principles governing the atmosphere

    It goes without saying that without the invention of the mercury barometer, there would be a very different beginning to the principles governing the atmosphere. The discovery of air pressure is far grander than most people think, especially due to how easy it was to think air was weightless. Even the brightest minds of the 17th century assumed it was weightless.

  • The benefits of the mercury barometer

    While there are many more barometers that exist in this day and age, the mercury barometer still gets the job done. With its high density, low vapor pressure, and low rate of evaporation, it’s still considered one of the best measuring devices for air pressure.

  • Maintaining the mercury barometer

    As the very first barometer of its kind, the surprising thing is it doesn’t take too much effort to maintain. So long as it’s kept away from extreme temperatures and humidity (and kept dust free), it should continue to work reasonably well.

FAQ about the mercury barometer

  • Are mercury barometers safe to own?

    It’s understandable to be a little apprehensive due to the mercury content, but a mercury barometer is generally safe. Keep it away from extreme temperatures and humidity, and it will work fine.

  • Where’s the best place I can put a mercury barometer?

    The thing about the mercury barometer is it works no matter where you put it. Whether indoors or outdoors, the results will generally be the same. That being said, it’s still a good idea to keep the barometer indoors and away from the windows so it isn’t exposed to the sun or too much dust.

  • How do I get any air bubbles out of the mercury barometer?

    The process is pretty simple. All you have to do is turn the tube upside down, and gently tap. It will make the mercury push all of the air bubbles toward the open end of the tube. Once all the air locks are gone, you can turn the tube back and it’s ready for use. 

  • Are there any disadvantages to using the mercury barometer?

    Compared to modern barometers, there most definitely are. It’s understandable, as the mercury barometer is the first of its kind — the fact that it can still be used to great effect speaks volumes. That said, the disadvantages of the mercury barometer is its hefty nature, and the glass tube has a high chance of being damaged.

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