An illustration of Anders Celsius
's original thermometer. Note the reversed scale, where 100 is the freezing point of water and 0 is its boiling point.
In 1742, Swedish astronomer Anders Celsius (1701–1744) created a temperature scale that was the reverse of the scale now known as "Celsius": 0 represented the boiling point of water, while 100 represented the freezing point of water. In his paper Observations of two persistent degrees on a thermometer, he recounted his experiments showing that the melting point of ice is essentially unaffected by pressure. He also determined with remarkable precision how the boiling point of water varied as a function of atmospheric pressure. He proposed that the zero point of his temperature scale, being the boiling point, would be calibrated at the mean barometric pressure at mean sea level. This pressure is known as one standard atmosphere. The BIPM's 10th General Conference on Weights and Measures (CGPM) later defined one standard atmosphere to equal precisely 1,013,250 dynes per square centimetre (101.325 kPa).
In 1743, the Lyonnais physicist Jean-Pierre Christin, permanent secretary of the Académie des sciences, belles-lettres et arts de LyonFR, working independently of Celsius, developed a scale where zero represented the freezing point of water and 100 represented the boiling point of water. On 19 May 1743 he published the design of a mercury thermometer, the "Thermometer of Lyon" built by the craftsman Pierre Casati that used this scale.
In 1744, coincident with the death of Anders Celsius, the Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus (1707–1778) reversed Celsius's scale. His custom-made "linnaeus-thermometer", for use in his greenhouses, was made by Daniel Ekström, Sweden's leading maker of scientific instruments at the time, whose workshop was located in the basement of the Stockholm observatory. As often happened in this age before modern communications, numerous physicists, scientists, and instrument makers are credited with having independently developed this same scale; among them were Pehr Elvius, the secretary of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences (which had an instrument workshop) and with whom Linnaeus had been corresponding; Daniel Ekström[SV], the instrument maker; and Mårten Strömer (1707–1770) who had studied astronomy under Anders Celsius.
The first known Swedish document reporting temperatures in this modern "forward" Celsius scale is the paper Hortus Upsaliensis dated 16 December 1745 that Linnaeus wrote to a student of his, Samuel Nauclér. In it, Linnaeus recounted the temperatures inside the orangery at the University of Uppsala Botanical Garden:
...since the caldarium (the hot part of the greenhouse) by the angle of the windows, merely from the rays of the sun, obtains such heat that the thermometer often reaches 30 degrees, although the keen gardener usually takes care not to let it rise to more than 20 to 25 degrees, and in winter not under 15 degrees...
Centigrade, hectograde and Celsius
Since the 19th century, the scientific and thermometry communities worldwide have used the phrase "centigrade scale". Temperatures on the centigrade scale were often reported simply as degrees or, when greater specificity was desired, as degrees centigrade (symbol: °C). Because the term centigrade was also the Spanish and French language name for a unit of angular measurement (1/10000 of a right angle) and had a similar connotation in other languages, the term centesimal degree (known as the gradian, "grad" or "gon": 1ᵍ = 0.9°, 100ᵍ = 90°) was used when very precise, unambiguous language was required by international standards bodies such as the BIPM. More properly, what was defined as "centigrade" then would now be "hectograde".
To eliminate any confusion, the 9th CGPM and the CIPM (Comité international des poids et mesures) formally adopted "degree Celsius" in 1948,[a] formally keeping the recognized degree symbol, rather than adopting the gradian/centesimal degree symbol.
For scientific use, "Celsius" is the term usually used, with "centigrade" remaining in common but decreasing use, especially in informal contexts in English-speaking countries. It was not until February 1985 that the forecasts issued by the BBC switched from "centigrade" to "Celsius".
Some key temperatures relating the Celsius scale to other temperature scales are shown in the table below.