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On the Regulation of Time and the Adoption of a Prime Meridian

by Sandford Fleming

shall give in brief an outline of a proposition for defining and regulating civil time which is favoured in many quarters of Canada and the United States of America:

1. It is proposed to establish one standard time which may be common to all people throughout the world, for communication by land and sea, for all ordinary purposes, for synchronous observations, and for all scientific purposes. This standard time to be known as Cosmopolitan Time. (The term “Cosmic” since suggested, commends itself.)

2. Cosmopolitan Time to be based on the diurnal revolutions of the earth as determined by the (mean) sun’s passage over one particular meridian to be selected as a Time-zero.

3. The Time-zero to coincide with the Prime Meridian to be common to all nations for computing longitude.

4. The Time-zero and Prime Meridian for the world to be established with the concurrence of civilized nations generally.

5. Twenty-four secondary or standard Hour-meridians to be established, fifteen degrees or one hour distant from each other, the first being fifteen degrees from the Prime Meridian.

6. The standard Hour-meridians to regulate time at all places on the earth’s surface.

7. The twenty-four standard Meridians to be denoted by symbols, and, preferably, by letters of the English alphabet, which, omitting J and V, are twenty-four in number. The letters have been taken in their order from east to west. The Zero-meridian being the letter Z.

8. The hour of the day to any place on the earth’s surface to be regulated by some one of the standard Meridians, generally by the standard nearest such place in longitude.

9. It is proposed to distinguish that interval time between two consecutive passages, of the (mean) sun over the Prime Meridian, by the term Cosmopolitan Day.

10. The Cosmopolitan Day is designed to promote exactness in chronology, and is intended to be employed in connection with synchronous observations in all parts of the world, and for scientific purposes generally.

11. Local days to commence twelve hours before, and end twelve hours after the (mean) sun’s passage over each of the standard Meridians. The local days to be distinguished by the letters of the twenty-four Meridians which determine them.

12. Local days will be reduced by twenty-four in number within the period of each diurnal revolution of the earth. They are to be regarded in the same light in all ordinary affairs as local days under the present system.

13. The hours of the Cosmopolitan Day to be known by the letters of the alphabet in their order from A to Z (omitting J and V), corresponding with the twenty-four Hour-meridians. When the (mean) sun passes Meridians G or N, it will be G time or N time of the Cosmopolitan Day.

14. It is proposed to abandon the divisions of the local day into two sets of hours, each numbered from one to twelve, and to employ a single series numbered from one to twenty-four without interruption; or as an alternative plan, to number the twelve hours from midnight to noon, as at present, and to letter the hours from noon to midnight. The afternoon letters being in agreement with the proper Cosmopolitan Time letters.

15. The time determined directly from the prime Meridian, as in the Cosmopolitan day, to be known by the general term Cosmopolitan Time.

16. Local time to be known by the particular standard Meridian to which it is referred. If it be determined by Meridian B it will be designated Standard B Time.

17. It is proposed to have standard time determined and disseminated under Governmental authority.

18. Each city and town of importance to have a public time-signal station electrically connected with a central observatory for the purposes of receiving and disseminating standard time with precision.

19. Each time signal station to be provided with automatical apparatus for dropping time-balls, or otherwise denoting the standard time hourly, or as often as circumstances may require.

20. All railway and local public clocks to be controlled electronically from the public time-signal stations.

The foregoing is a general outline of the proposition. It must be evident that the system of Cosmopolitan time would be a ready means of meeting the difficulties to which I have referred. It would render it practicable to secure uniformity, great simplicity, perfect accuracy, and complete harmony. The times of places widely differing in longitude would differ only by entire hours. In all other respects Standard time in every longitude and latitiude would be in perfect arrangement. In theory every clock in the world would indicate some one of the twenty-four hours at the same instant, and there would be perfect synchronism with the minutes and seconds everywhere around the globe.

By the system proposed, instead of an infinite and confusing number of local days following the sun during each diurnal revolution of the earth, we should have twenty-four well defined local days only; each local day would have a fixed relation to the others, and all would be governed by the position of the sun in relation to the Prime Meridian. These twenty-four local days would succeed each other at intervals of one hour during each successive diurnal revolution of the globe. The day of each locality would be known by the letter or other designation of its standard Meridian, and the general confusion and ambiguity which I have set forth as the consequences of the present system would cease to exist.

Source: Sandford Fleming, “Universal or Cosmic Time, together with other papers, Communications and Reports in the possession of the Canadian Institute respecting the movement for reforming the Time-System of the World, and establishing a Prime Meridian as a zero common to all nations.” Supplementary Papers: Address at the International Geographic Congress, Venice, 21 September 1881, on the regulation of Time and the adoption of a Prime Meridian. Council of the Canadian Institute (Toronto: Copp, Clark and Co., 1885), pp. 60–62.