Little Bits of History

Organized Time

Posted in History by patriciahysell on October 13, 2015
Greenwich Royal Observatory*

Greenwich Royal Observatory*

October 13, 1884: Greenwich is adopted as the universal meridian. US President Chester Arthur called for a conference to choose a meridian to be used as a common zero longitude and standards of time to be used throughout the world. In the previous decade, it became obvious that a prime meridian would make worldwide navigation easier and would also unify local times which would assist in railway time tables. The first International Geographical Congress was held in Antwerp in 1871 and passed a motion to use the Greenwich Meridian for passage charts and suggested it become mandatory in 15 years. While rail times in Great Britain were problematic, in the US the problems were much worse because of the size of the system.

This 1884 conference had its roots in the third geographical conference held in Venice in 1881. High on the list of things to accomplish was the establishment of a prime meridian and standardization of times around the globe. An Act of Congress passed in August 1882 authorizing the President to call for an international conference to fix on a prime meridian and longitude throughout the world. Even before invitations could be sent out, members of various concerns worked on a way to bring US railways into coordinated time. It was implemented on November 18, 1883 but was not legally established until 1918. Even so, there were still international problems and the conference was held.

There were 26 nations with 41 delegates at the International Meridian Conference. From Austria-Hungary to Venezuela, countries from around the world passed seven resolutions. Their first resolution was to agree that it was desirable to adopt a single prime meridian for all nations rather than the current system of several different primes (negating the idea of prime). The call for Greenwich to be that Prime Meridian was passed 22-1 (two abstaining). San Domingo had voted against the resolution  and Brazil and France abstained. France did not adopt the Greenwich meridian until 1911. The rest of the longitudinal marks were then voted on. Then they had to agree on when to implement these changes and how to go about that. It was also decided that the beginning of each would be at midnight.

Universal Time (UT) is the modern continuation of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). There are several different versions of UT (UT0, UT1, UT1R, UT2, and UTC [Coordinated Universal Time]). GMT is the mean solar time at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, London. UTC is the system in use today as a time standard. It mandates how clocks are set around the world and is within about a second of mean solar time at 0⁰ longitude. UTC was formalized in 1960 and is based on International Atomic Time with leap seconds added at irregular intervals to keep the time in step with solar time. UTC does not observe daylight savings time.

Time is what we want most, but what we use worst. – William Penn

Better three hours too soon than a minute too late. – William Shakespeare

Lost time is never found again. – Benjamin Franklin

For time is the longest distance between two places. – Tennessee Williams

Also on this day: Service – In 1843, B’nai B’rith was founded.
Miracle of the Sun – In 1917, Our Lady of Fatima appeared to thousands.
Yellow Jackets – In 1885, Georgia Tech was founded.
Whirlpool – In 1773, Charles Messier discovered a new galaxy.
President’s Palace – In 1973, the cornerstone for the White House was laid.

* “Greenwich-Royal Observatory-016” by Tilman2007/Dr. Volkmar Rudolf – Own work. Licensed under GFDL via Commons –




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