Most people can understand the impulse to build a collection. There’s the art of the chase and the thrill of the find. The satisfaction of compiling something that you can pass on for generations to come. But most people don’t collect with the fervor of Richard T. Porter. Dubbed “The Thermometer Man,” Porter is the Guinness Book of Records holder for the world’s largest collection of thermometers and the founder of the Porter Thermometer Museum, which holds his life’s work.
Porter began collecting and repairing thermometers when he taught junior high. His obsession with the temperature tellers began to grow, impelling Porter to travel to all 50 states and 20 countries collecting thermometers. If the thermometers he finds on his journeys need repair, Porter tinkers with them himself until they work again. He also replaces dangerous mercury—which used to be commonplace in creating thermometers—with safer alcohol substitutes.
Porter’s museum includes miniature thermometers, antique thermometers, goofy thermometers and historically significant thermometers: Porter owns the thermometer that Austria’s Archduke Ferdinand used to learn to read temperatures when he was a boy.
Porter’s collection perhaps would have remained private if he hadn’t lost his daughter to a brain tumor in 1990. He honored his daughter’s wishes—that he would open a museum to house his collection—and preserved his finds by opening the Porter Thermometer Museum in 1993. Porter’s hometown, the small village of Onset in Wareham, Massachusetts, has since been dubbed the “thermometer capital of the world.”
For those who can’t make it out to Porter’s museum, don’t dismay—the thermometer museum won’t cease to exist after his death (he’s 84). Porter has decreed that his thermometers be donated to Penn State’s national weather museum.
Update 2017: The museum has closed and most of the collection has moved to State College, Pa. to the headquarters of AccuWeather.
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