This Day in History – October 13th, 1884

Prior to the introduction of standard time, each municipality throughout the civilized world set its official clock, if it had one, according to the local position of the Sun (known as solar time). This served adequately until the introduction of rail travel in Britain, which made it possible to travel fast enough over long distances to require continuous re-setting of timepieces as a train progressed in its daily run through several towns. Greenwich Mean Time, where all clocks in Britain were set to the same time, was established to solve this problem and was officially established on this day in 1884. Chronometers or telegraphy were used to synchronize these clocks.

Standard_time_zones_of_the_world

Standard time, as originally proposed by Scottish-Canadian Sir Sandford Fleming in 1879, divided the world into twenty-four time zones, each one covering 15 degrees of longitude. All clocks within each zone would be set to the same time as the others, but differed by one hour from those in the neighboring zones. The local time at the Royal Greenwich Observatory in Greenwich, England was chosen as standard at the 1884 International Meridian Conference, leading to the widespread use of Greenwich Mean Time to set local clocks. This location was chosen because by 1884 two-thirds of all nautical charts and maps already used it as their prime meridian. The conference did not adopt Fleming’s time zones because they were outside the purpose for which it was called, which was to choose a basis for universal time (as well as a prime meridian).

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