This story is about the interest in measurement that arose in the eighteenth century, (a period often known as ‘The Enlightenment’) and of the growing confidence in our ability to understand nature and use it to our advantage. Many people had more time and money than before and were able to take an interest in the world about them. Isaac Newton had explained why the planets circulate around the Sun and why bodies near the Earth fall to its surface, so people expected that many other aspects of nature would soon be understood.
There was a belief that observing and measuring things as diverse as rainfall, death records and electric charge would lead to eventual benefits for mankind. Some of the measurement had immediate use, such as finding the position of a ship at sea or the quantity of alcohol in a barrel for tax purposes. Other measurements were undertaken in the hope that long-term patterns would emerge. Many new scientific instruments were devised.