Little Bits of History

Time is on Our Side

Posted in History by patriciahysell on February 8, 2012

Sandford Fleming

February 8, 1879: Sandford Fleming speaks before the Royal Canadian Institute. Sir Sandford was born in Scotland in 1827. In 1845 he and his older brother emigrated to Ontario, Canada. He was an engineer and inventor. He founded the Royal Canadian Institute and was one of the founders of the Royal Society of Canada. He was a surveyor and cartographer. He engineered much of the Intercolonial and Canadian Pacific Railways. He proposed a Canadian postage stamp and is best known for his idea set forth on this day.

Fleming was visiting in Ireland in 1876. The printed train schedule listed the departure at a PM time. The train left in the morning. On this day, Fleming proposed a 24-hour clock for the entire world based at the center of the planet and not on any surface meridian. He suggested time zones could be used locally. His world clock linked to the anti-meridian of Greenwich. The idea did not catch on immediately, but he kept working at it.

The International Meridian Conference was held in October 1884 in Washington, D.C. The objective was to determine the Prime Meridian. The Prime Meridian or 0° of longitude, is directly opposite the 180° line or the International Date Line. The site for the Prime Meridian was placed through Greenwich, London, England. There were 25 nations represented by 41 delegates at the conference. Terms were clarified. Universal day meant solar day and astronomical and nautical days were to be aligned with all days beginning at midnight. The resolutions passed. Universal time was accepted in 1884 but it took until 1929 before it was universally implemented.

Before this standard was adopted, each metropolis had their own official clock. The time was based on solar time or the position of the sun. Before the invention of the steam engine and the building of long-distance railroads, this was close enough. As people traveled east or west, they had to continuously adjust their watches. The instant transmission of telegraphy was also a problem. Fleming suggested 24 time zones, each one covering 15 degrees of longitude. Today, with atomic clocks, we can measure time to the microsecond. But people still miss their trains.

Clocks slay time… time is dead as long as it is being clicked off by little wheels; only when the clock stops does time come to life. – William Faulkner

You must have been warned against letting the golden hours slip by; but some of them are golden only because we let them slip by. – James Matthew Barrie

Time is a brisk wind, for each hour it brings something new… but who can understand and measure its sharp breath, its mystery and its design? – Paracelsus

Watches are so named as a reminder – if you don’t watch carefully what you do with your time, it will slip away from you. – Drew Sirtors

Also on this day:

Orangeburg, South Carolina – In 1968, the Orangeburg massacre took place.
Stars and Stripes – In 1918, the US military newspaper resumed publication.
The Devil’s Footprints – In 1855, the Devil’s Footprints appeared.