400 years ago, humans began to feel the need for a device that could control the temperature. The aim was to have an easier life, letting technology take care of this essential task. The result was the thermostat, which is found in furnaces, air conditioners, refrigerators, cars, etc.
What temperatures can we withstand? Although there are many factors to take into account (such as the duration of exposure, the clothes worn, the humidity and wind levels), in general it can be stated that death is guaranteed above 60ºC and below -70ºC.
These temperatures are extreme, but they aren’t science fiction: in environments that are not exactly pleasant, such as the Mponeng gold mine (South Africa) temperatures of +65ºC can be reached, and in cities in Siberia (such as Oymyakon) the thermostat can descend to as low as -67ºC. In both cases, people survive thanks to refrigeration or heating systems.
The human being has always designed solutions to endure extreme temperatures. Inside an Arctic igloo, for example, it is 20 degrees warmer than outside. Still, they rarely get warmer than 7ºC, even with a fire lit inside (the cold outside prevents the ice from melting).
However, if we’re talking about a scientific approach to temperature, the essential invention is the thermostat.
A short history of the thermostat
It was around 1620, when the Dutch inventor Cornelius Drebbel (the creator of the first submarine in history) invented an oven to incubate eggs whose temperature was controlled by a mercury thermostat and an air intake that allowed larger or smaller quantities of hot air to pass through. It is considered to be the origin of the thermostat.
In 1830, Andrew Ure a Scotsman, invented what today we refer to as a thermostat with a view to keeping steam boilers warm.
A few decades later, in 1880, a Professor from Wisconsin named Warren Johnson became truly obsessed with regulating the temperature of the classrooms in which he taught. His obsession led him to create the electrical thermostat, a device to control the room temperature inside buildings.
Shortly afterwards, in 1883, Albert Butz patented the first temperature regulator for ovens and a pioneering system called the damper flapper, which automatically regulated the air intake of coal furnaces in order to raise or lower the temperature. His invention was the origin of modern automatic temperature control systems.
In 1906, a young engineer named Mark Honeywell purchased Butz’s patent and developed the first programmable thermostat, which incorporated a clock that allowed for the pre-setting of the temperature for the following morning. Later, in 1934, came the thermostat including an electric clock. Dial thermostats first appeared in the 1950's, and have survived to the present day.
The 1980’s featured the emergence of the first thermostats with digital displays, electronic circuits and many functions such as programming in terms of the time and the day of the week. Thermostats would continue to evolve during the 1990’s and 2000’s, expanding their functions, until the development of a new generation of smart thermostats connected to the internet.