In 1848, William Thomson, who was later created Lord Kelvin, wrote in his paper, On an Absolute Thermometric Scale, of the need for a scale whereby "infinite cold" (absolute zero) was the scale's null point, and which used the degree Celsius for its unit increment. Kelvin calculated that absolute zero was equivalent to −273 °C on the air thermometers of the time. This absolute scale is known today as the Kelvin thermodynamic temperature scale. Kelvin's value of "−273" was the negative reciprocal of 0.00366—the accepted expansion coefficient of gas per degree Celsius relative to the ice point, giving a remarkable consistency to the currently accepted value.
In 1954, Resolution 3 of the 10th General Conference on Weights and Measures (CGPM) gave the Kelvin scale its modern definition by designating the triple point of water as its second defining point and assigned its temperature to exactly 273.16 kelvins.
In 1967/1968, Resolution 3 of the 13th CGPM renamed the unit increment of thermodynamic temperature "kelvin", symbol K, replacing "degree Kelvin", symbol °K. Furthermore, feeling it useful to more explicitly define the magnitude of the unit increment, the 13th CGPM also held in Resolution 4 that "The kelvin, unit of thermodynamic temperature, is equal to the fraction 1/273.16 of the thermodynamic temperature of the triple point of water."
In 2005, the Comité International des Poids et Mesures (CIPM), a committee of the CGPM, affirmed that for the purposes of delineating the temperature of the triple point of water, the definition of the Kelvin thermodynamic temperature scale would refer to water having an isotopic composition specified as Vienna Standard Mean Ocean Water.
On 16 November 2018, a new definition was adopted, in terms of a fixed value of the Boltzmann constant. With this change the triple point of water became an empirically determined value of approximately 273.16 kelvin. For legal metrology purposes, the new definition officially came into force on 20 May 2019, the 144th anniversary of the Metre Convention.