April 21, 1771, brought unusual weather conditions, namely a springtime blizzard, to the Swabian town of Göppingen. We know this because the worsted-wool weaver Ernst Jacob Vayhinger wrote about it in a chronicle that he kept from 1756 to 1784. His exact words were, “The weather is also quite something. I have a barometer, which indicates the clearest weather today, and yet it is snowing so badly. The same thing happened a year ago. As the upper wind brought rain, it [the barometer] was instead showing nice conditions, and the rain was freezing cold.” While the vivid description of inclement weather certainly catches the eye, the presence of a barometer in this weaver's household in 1771 stands out even more. In fact, this weather-based technology was barely a century old in the latter half of the eighteenth century, having been invented by Evangelista Torricelli, an Italian mathematician, in 1643. To be sure, Vayhinger's malfunctioning barometer was almost certainly a water-filled glass instrument rather than the more precise mercury-based instruments of early-modern natural philosophers, but what matters here is that Vayhinger had a relatively new, ornamental wall hanging that indicated an awareness of new scientific principles. And, as this article will show, he was not at all the only one to acquire such novelties in this hometown full of Handwerker (artisans).
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