The mercury-in-glass or mercury thermometer was invented by physicist Daniel Gabriel Fahrenheit in Amsterdam (1714). It consists of a bulb containing mercury attached to a glass tube of narrow diameter; the volume of mercury in the tube is much less than the volume of the bulb. The volume of mercury changes slightly with temperature; the small change in volume drives the narrow mercury column a relatively long way up the tube. The space above the mercury may be filled with nitrogen or it may be at less than atmospheric pressure, a partial vacuum.
In order to calibrate the thermometer, the bulb is made to reach thermal equilibrium with a temperature standard such as an ice/water mixture, and then with another standard such as water/vapour, and the tube is divided into regular intervals between the fixed points. In principle, thermometers made of different material (e.g., coloured alcohol thermometers) might be expected to give different intermediate readings due to different expansion properties; in practice the substances used are chosen to have reasonably linear expansion characteristics as a function of true thermodynamic temperature, and so give similar results.