Dan Holohan: The metal manometer
A simple mistake led to the invention of the common pressure gauge.
At first, Eugene Bourdon was annoyed when he saw what his worker had done to the metal tube. The tube was in the shape of a spiral and it was to go into a laundry machine they were building in Bourdon’s shop. But the worker had somehow managed to flatten most of the tube, and that was not good. The worker, of course, was nervous as Bourdon looked at the tube and thought about whether or not this was a total loss.
But then Bourdon had an idea. He closed one end of the spiraled metal coil and connected the other end to a water pump. He figured the water pressure might be able to make the tube round again because the metal was thin enough. And to his delight, it worked!
But here’s the best part. As the tube regained its shape, it also began to unroll from its spiral. Bourdon stood and watched this with great interest. It suddenly dawned on him that what he was witnessing could possibly become a key to a new sort of manometer to measure high pressure.
Working with metal was not unusual for Bourdon. He made watches and he had always loved mechanical devices of all sorts. He was born in Paris on April 8, 1808. His father was a well-to-do silk merchant. He sent Bourdon to good schools and when Eugene was old enough, his father sent him to Nuremberg for two years to learn how to speak German. When he returned, Bourdon helped his father in his silk business until his father died in 1830. Eugene then worked for an optician for two years and continued his love for all things mechanical.