What do the Cayman Islands, Liberia, and the United States have in common? 

These are the only three countries in the world that – for some reason unbeknownst to us here at The Viking Herald and most of the world population – do not use the Celsius temperature scale. 

These three countries have decided to stick with an arcane system that makes as much sense as pants on a duck. 

Jokes aside, these three countries have also turned their backs on the invention of one of Sweden's greatest sons and one of the greatest minds of the 18th century – a century full of great minds, from Benjamin Franklin to John Locke, from Jean-Jacques Rousseau to Moses Mendelssohn and Isaac Newton. 

This son, Anders Celsius, was a great mind, a man who successfully dabbled in astronomy, mathematics, and physics, all to great success. 

He is credited with founding the Uppsala Observatory and laying the groundwork for the formation of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences

When he wasn't busy with all that, he also invented the centigrade temperature scale, a crucial scientific development used globally – except, of course, in those three countries (#getwiththeprogramme). 

Anders Celsius deserves to be mentioned alongside the other intellectual giants who helped enlighten an entire age. To understand what made him so brilliant, we must first delve into his early years. 

After his studies at Uppsala University, founded in 1477, Anders Celsius ascended to a professorship, immersing himself in the epicenter of Sweden's 18th-century scientific and intellectual community. Photo: ScanianDragon (Public domain)

Anders before Celsius 

The man we know today as Anders Celsius was born in Uppsala, Sweden, in 1701. 

Now, for those of you who know Swedish culture a little more than ABBA and Zlatan, you'll know that Celsius is not a "Swedish" sounding name. 

Celsius is the Latinized form of the name of the parish where his ancestors lived, Högen, which means "mound" in English. 

Now, Latin was, and had been for centuries, the lingua franca of Europe, helping a whole class of learned people, from Aberdeen to Amsterdam to Aachen, communicate with one another. 

It should be no surprise that young Anders would have his family name changed into Latin, given that he came from a learned and intellectual family. 

His father was an astronomy professor. His uncle was the mentor of another great Swedish mind, Carl Linnaeus, and his grandfather was a famed mathematician. 

Young Anders was surrounded by marvelous minds, and having close access to such great wisdom and knowledge must have been exhilarating... intellectually speaking, at least. 

We know little of his younger years, but we do know that he studied at Uppsala University, the oldest in the Nordic region, founded in 1477. He followed his father into academics, becoming a professor of astronomy by the time he was 30. 

With a position at this illustrious university, Celsius had the means and access to a great font of knowledge. He was at Sweden's epicenter of intellectual and scientific life during the mid-18th century. 

Anders Celsius, an active explorer of knowledge, journeyed through France, Germany, and Italy’s scholarly centers and conducted groundbreaking research in Lapland on the aurora borealis. Photo: AstroAnthony (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Scientific discoveries and career 

Yet, to think of Celsius as an armchair intellectual would be wrong. 

Far from seeking refuge among books, he ventured into the wider world and extensively traveled through France, Germany, and Italy, traditional hubs of education, knowledge, science, and learning for centuries. 

According to Stempels in Open Astronomy (2011), he studied the aurora borealis, the northern lights, in Lapland, an area of northern Scandinavia, and is credited with first describing the relationship between the Earth's magnetic field and this winter celestial show. 

Like many Swedes since, especially in modern times, he was more than happy to head to warmer climates. 

He accompanied a French Academy of Sciences expedition to what is now Ecuador and Peru to conduct scientific research on longitude and latitude. 

Like many other inquisitive minds of the 18th century, he was more than willing to get his scientific hands "dirty" by traveling to the extremes of the globe and far-flung places to conduct research and analysis. 

His travels and subsequent research papers won him fame and considerable wealth. 

Celsius funneled this newly found fortune into an observatory at the university, founded in 1741. 

Having traveled widely throughout Europe to witness other observatories, he ensured that the Uppsala Observatory was state-of-the-art, with some of the most advanced scientific equipment to be found in the Nordic region. 

The astronomical community of Sweden and the wider scientific world owe a debt of gratitude to Celsius's founding of this observatory. 

Carl Linnaeus, whose statue stands in Uppsala’s Botanical Garden, proposed inverting Celsius's scale, setting 0 degrees as the freezing point and 100 degrees as the boiling point. Photo: trabantos / Shutterstock 

Six degrees of separation 

With more than a decade of scientific research behind him, Celsius shook the world in 1742 by proposing a new temperature scale in a paper to the Royal Society of Sciences in Uppsala

He was not the first to tackle the problem of temperature measurement or to devise a new scale. Throughout the past century, many great minds have tried to tackle the problem of measuring temperatures. 

The great Renaissance scientist Galileo even tried his hand at this problem, inventing an early thermoscope. These primitive glass tubes could detect a temperature change but not the temperature itself. 

This problem was solved in 1714 when German scientist Daniel Gabriel Fahrenheit invented the mercury-filled thermometer. 

A decade later, he proposed a new scale – named after himself, of course – which set the freezing point at 32 degrees and the boiling point at 212 degrees. 

Celsius's system of measurement was unique because of its simplicity. Here, 0 is the freezing point, and 100 is the boiling point. 

Celsius, conscious of his Latin background, named this new system Centigrade, where centum means "100" and gradus "steps." 

It was based on a 100-degree interval between freezing and boiling points, or, more colloquially, it took 100 steps for frozen water to boil. 

Celsius, who contracted tuberculosis and died at the age of 42 in 1744, is buried at Old Uppsala Church. He passed away in Uppsala, the city where he was born, and spent most of his life working as a scientist. Photo: Kateryna Baiduzha (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Death, legacy, and burial 

The centigrade system that Celsius had invented looked quite different from the one we use today. 

After Celsius's death, Carl Linnaeus suggested tweaking the system and inverting the values, thereby giving a freezing point of 0 degrees and a boiling point of 100. 

The scale was later renamed in honor of Anders Celsius, as Haas stated in his article in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry, back in 1993. 

Less than two years after Celsius published his magnum opus, he was dead. 

He lived in an era of rudimentary and basic medical care, and it is believed that he contracted a deadly case of tuberculosis. 

With no vaccines or antibiotics, catching a case of "consumption" (as it was known then) was essentially a death sentence. 

He dedicated much of his life to science and the pursuit of knowledge, dying without a family at the age of 42. 

He was fondly remembered by the scientific and intellectual community in Sweden. 

Along with his uncle's old protégé, Carl Linnaeus, he was instrumental in founding the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in Stockholm. 

He was buried near his beloved university, in the Gamla Uppsala Church, a historic site for one of Sweden's most brilliant minds and a towering figure in Swedish scientific history. 

Anders Celsius's pioneering work in the development of a standardized and practical temperature scale rightly places him among the most well-known intellectuals of the 18th century. 

One might say he had a burning passion for scientific research and discovery, a passion that continues to be the foundation of scientific measurement and understanding to this day. 

If you would like to visit the tomb of this great man at Gamla Uppsala Church or learn more about great figures in Swedish history like Anders Celsius, then The Viking Herald has great news.

Our partner, STOEX, provides daily small, guided tours from Stockholm to Gamla UppsalaSigtuna, and other historic sites. For a more detailed experience, consider the STOEX Viking History Extended tour

Whether you crave cultural immersion or thrilling outdoor excursions, STOEX promises personalized experiences that leave a big impact. 

This branded article was produced in collaboration with STOEX, a partner of The Viking Herald. You can find out more about their Viking and history tours - and book one - here.

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