The History of the Stormglass


    The history of the Stormglass is as mysterious as the glass itself. The first mention of the Stormglass comes from England, roughly from the early 19th century. Around 1870, its presence was also noted in France.

    Often, its discovery is mistakenly attributed to an English Admiral Robert Fitzroy, who lived from 1805 to 1865. He constructed a variety of barometers and thermometers for the needs of the Royal Navy, however, he was not the inventor of the Stormglass. Although, he was its great promoter and especially an intensive observer. Fitzroy tried to outline the origin of the glass in his writings. His record from 1861 states:

Admiral Robert FitzRoy

    "About forty years ago, an Italian named Malacredi brought unusual glass ampoules to the British Kingdom which he called Stormglasses. They have been probably made there since then. I acquired a few of these glasses. It was more of a curiosity than an object of actual use. The mixture in the glass changed due to weather effects, especially the direction of wind."

    In the 19th century, the Stormglass was extensively studied, especially in England, as a possible tool for weather forecast. Admiral Fitzroy himself contributed to its popularization. He was also one of the first who studied the processes taking place inside the Stormglass.

    In 1859, a severe storm hit the British Isles. As a result, the British Royal Court distributed Stormglasses, known as "FitzRoys Storm Barometers", among many small fishing communities around the British Isles. These Stormglasses were to be used for weather forecasts and to subsequently inform ships before leaving the port.

    There is no doubt that the Stormglass was known in the 19th century France as well. A famous writer Jules Verne himself mentioned it in his novel "Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea" in the passage where Captain Nemo gives the professor a tour around the Nautilus... "Sir," said Captain Nemo, showing me the instruments hanging on the walls of his room, "here are the contrivances required for the navigation of the Nautilus. Here, as in the drawing-room, I have them always under my eyes, and they indicate my position and exact direction in the middle of the ocean. Some are known to you..." He goes on describing various individual instruments until he gets to the glass... "The Stormglass, the contents of which, by decomposing, announce the approach of tempests..." It is the Stormglass itself he mentions, and the "decomposing contents" probably meant nothing more than internal changes of the solution and crystals enclosed in the vial.

Captain Nemo

    Unfortunately, the creator of Stormglasses is still unknown. The authors of the article about the history of the Stormglass "Will the true originator of the Stormglass please own up?" polemize whether the inventor will ever be known. For now, it is assumed that the Stormglass is a product of industrial chemists of the 19th century, who sought to find a tool that would predict weather better than traditional barometers.

    Comprehensive information on the history can be found in the article: "Will the true originator of the Storm glass please own up?" which was published in a journal Ambix 2006, 53, 67-75.



Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published