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The Scary Connection Between Thermostats and Frankenstein

Whether you’ve lived in Texas for a few months or your entire life, you know that controlling the temperature of your home or business is one of the greatest modern achievements of comfort. Like many inventions, the thermostat has an interesting origin story—one that’s perfect for the spookiest season of the year.

The Bi-Metallic Thermostat

Andrew Ure was an early 19th-century Scottish chemist and inventor who was inspired to develop a means of controlling the temperature in dangerously hot industrial textile mills. At the time time, factory workers labored under harsh conditions, contending with long hours, low pay and unbearable heat, especially in cotton factories where the air had to be kept warm and humid to prevent the thread from breaking.

Ure’s solution was the bimetallic thermostat. The mechanism included two different types of metal that would expand in response to increased temperatures. When it became too hot, the thermostat would cut off the energy to the factory, bringing laborers inside temporary relief from the stuffy atmosphere.

Ure’s invention didn’t gain much traction. And though his bimetallic thermostat was well-intended, Ure didn’t have much sympathy for the working class. As he once put it: “Workers in cotton mills were less liable to cholera than the rest of the population and that working at a temperature of 150 °F was not harmful.”

He wasn’t exactly a folk hero.

He Sparked an Interest in Reanimation

The bimetallic thermostat would not be Ure’s claim to fame. Rather, he was one of several scientists who captured the public’s imagination by trying to raise the dead via electricity -- a trend in the scientific community that inspired Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

The theory that dead bodies could be jolted back to life was first tested by Luigi Galvani, an Italian physicist, biologist, and philosopher. In the late 1700s, Galvani discovered that dead animals twitched when touched with an electric spark. Based on his experiments, he theorized that recently-dead muscle tissue and nerve cells held an electrical force that could be manipulated with external stimuli, i.e. volts of electricity.

His nephew, Giovanni Aldini, took his research to a more macabre level. Aldini, a physicist like his uncle, set up a lab conveniently located near the town gallows, which offered a steady supply of fresh cadavers for experimentation.

Aldini often invited spectators to witness his attempts at charging life into the dead murderers. In one endeavor, he sent jolts of electricity through electrodes pinned to a corpse’s head. As one reporter recounted, “[...]the jaws of the deceased criminal began to quiver, and the adjoining muscles were horribly contorted, and one eye was actually opened. In the subsequent part of the process the right hand was raised and clenched, and the legs and thighs were set in motion.”

Ure jumped into the fray with freakshows of his own.

It’s Alive!

In 1818, the year Shelley published her seminal masterwork, Ure announced publically that he, too, had been conducting electrical experiments on the dead. The Glasgow professor claimed that life could be restored in cases of suffocation, drowning or hanging.

Ure tried proving his theory in a demonstration where he shoved a tube connected to a battery up a dead murderer’s nose. Onlookers shrieked in terror as the body appeared to stand up on its own, breathe laboriously and move spasmodically with a hideous expression on its face. According to one account, Ure had to subdue the electrified corpse by stabbing it in the jugular. One witness fainted during the grisly display.

Ure’s research, however, was largely discredited as an attempt to gain notoriety, and he came under attack by the church on accusations of demon-summoning. Whatever his motivations, Ure eventually lost interest in the subject and pursued relatively mundane projects in the fields of chemistry and mechanics, earning a patent on his bimetallic thermostat in 1830.

The next significant advancement in thermostat technology wasn’t until 1883, which means we’d have to go another 50 years without regulated temperature control. Talk about scary!

Luckily—thanks to these inventors—if you have goosebumps from reading this story you can just go turn the temperature up.

If your home or business has any HVAC service, repair, or replacement needs, contact the professionals at Milton Frank Plumbing & Cooling! (And don’t worry—all of our techs are background checked and absolutely none of them have a history of reanimating corpses.)