This watch belonged to Sir Sandford Fleming, chief engineer of the Canadian Pacific Railway. About 1880, Fleming devised a plan for worldwide time zones and had a complicated watch made to reflect both zoned time and local time.
The maker of Fleming's watch is the London firm of Nicole, Nielsen & Co. Successor to a business founded by Swiss immigrants Adolphe Nicole and Jules Capt in the late 1830s, the firm made high-quality timepieces. Fleming ordered the watch through retailer E. White, also of London.
Fleming's first notions about time reform emerged on a trip to Ireland in 1876, when he missed a train because he misread a timetable. His initial plan concentrated on replacing the two twelve-hour designations of the day, A.M. and P.M., with a twenty-four hour system. Almost immediately, though, he expanded his ideas about time reform to propose a system he called variously "Terrestrial Time," "Cosmopolitan Time," and "Cosmic Time"-a division of the globe into twenty-four zones, each one hour apart and identified by letters of the alphabet.
As the 1880s began there was no binding international agreement about how to keep time for the world. Traditionally, each country used its own capital city or main observatory for measuring time and designating lines of longitude on national maps. After publication of the British Nautical Almanac began in 1767, many nations came to use Greenwich time for navigation and some scientific observations. Local mean time served for all other activities.
Added emphasis on Greenwich had come from North America when the railroads there voluntarily adopted a standard zoned time in 1883. In that system, the zones were based on meridians counted west from Greenwich, England, at zero degree of longitude.
Fleming was not the first or only proponent of world standard time. Quirico Filopanti, an Italian mathematics and engineering professor, for example, published a scheme based on twenty-four zones counted from Rome as prime meridian in 1858.
Organized international support emerged slowly for fixing a common prime meridian. Not until October 1884 did diplomats and technical specialists gather to act on scientific proposals. The International Meridian Conference, held in Washington, DC, recommended that the nations of the world establish a prime meridian at Greenwich, count longitude east and west from the prime meridian up to 180 degrees in each direction, and adopt a universal day beginning at Greenwich at midnight. Although the International Meridian Conference had no authority to enforce its suggestions, the meeting resulted in the gradual worldwide adoption of a time-zone based system with Greenwich as zero degrees.
The military and some civilian science, aviation and navigation efforts still use alphabet identifiers for time zones. The time of day in Zone Z is known as "Zulu Time." The zone is governed by the zero degree of longitude that runs through Greenwich.
National Museum of American History
Location: Currently not on view
maker: Nicole, Nielsen & Co.
ID Number: 1990.0659.01
catalog number: 1990.0659.01
accession number: 1990.0659
Date made: ca 1880
Physical Description: brass, gilded (movement material)
Physical Description: gold (case material)
Measurements: overall: 2 3/4 in x 2 in x 5/8 in; 6.985 cm x 5.08 cm x 1.5875 cm
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place made: United Kingdom: England