A hydrometer is an instrument used to measure the specific gravity (or relative density) of liquids; that is, the ratio of the density of the liquid to the density of water. A hydrometer is usually made of glass and consists of a cylindrical stem and a bulb weighted with mercury or lead shot to make it float upright. The liquid to be tested is poured into a tall jar, and the hydrometer is gently lowered into the liquid until it floats freely. The point at which the surface of the liquid touches the stem of the hydrometer is noted. Hydrometers usually contain a paper scale inside the stem, so that the specific gravity can be read directly.
Benson John Lossing, ed. The New Popular Educator (London, England: Cassell & Company Limited, 1891)