Today was the birthday in 1794 of George Merryweather, who I’m sure you know as the inventor of his era’s most fascinating weather predicting contraption: the tempest prognosticator.

We’re living in a pretty high-tech world when it comes to weather forecasting.

We’ve got Doppler radar and all kinds of sensors to track what’s happening in the world around us and how it might turn into rain, or wind, or storms, or snow, or whatever it is that’s coming.

People in the 19th Century didn’t have that technology, so they used what they did have.

Merryweather had leeches.

He put twelve of them in little glass bottles around a big bell.

At the tops of the bottles there were little tubes.

He was trying to measure low atmospheric pressure, a sign that a storm is coming.

Merryweather figured that when the pressure was low, the leeches would try to move their way into the tops of their glass bottle homes.

In doing so, they would dislodge the bits of whalebone he’d placed there, triggering hammers that struck the bell.

Remember that he put twelve of them in the contraption.

One leech doing this might be a fluke, but having a whole set of them – Merryweather called them a “jury of philosophical councilors” – made the system a lot more reliable.

He tested the tempest prognosticator for a year, mailing cards to colleagues anytime the leeches thought a storm was brewing.

These scientists often wrote back to say that yes, there had been a storm.

While the tempest prognosticator was not that accurate by modern standards, that wasn’t the reason the device failed to make its way into households all over the world.

See, it’s a highly complex system with precise requirements that most people, most ship crews and even most scientific labs simply couldn’t quite… ok, we all know it was really the leeches.

Today in 1953, a newspaper report included a prediction from Mark R. Sullivan, president and director of the Pacific Telephone and Telegraph Company in San Francisco.

Sullivan said, “in its final development, the telephone will be carried about by the individual, perhaps as we carry a watch today. I think the users will be able to see each other, if they want, as they talk.

“Who knows but what it may actually translate from one language to another?”

Yep, that’s about how it’s played out.

A Council Of Leeches Used To Predict Storms Inside The “Tempest Prognosticator” (IFL Science)

Is This Cellphone Prediction from 1953 Real? (Snopes)

We prognosticate that when you back us on Patreon, we will strike the bell of knowledge over and over, and without resorting to leeches

Photo by Badobadop – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikicommons