Time Lord

After attending a village school for six years and being apprenticed to a surveyor for another six, Sandford Fleming, at eighteen, left his native Scotland for Canada in 1845. There he became an engineer and railroad builder, surveying and planning the Canadian Pacific Railroad.

Early nineteenth century cities set their clocks at noon when the sun was directly overhead; by mid-century the United States had 144 official clock times. The coming of the railroads created chaos; each railroad set its clocks by its home city, regardless of the time used by the cities they served. In 1883 there were 50 different railroad times.

In 1848 Britain declared noon at Greenwich Observatory the standard for the entire island. Other European nations followed, setting their clocks at their own capital or naval observatory. Stretching thousands of miles east to west, the United States and Canada found this system unworkable. United States railroads finally agreed to adopt four standard time zones; by the end of 1883, seventy percent of schools, courts, and local governments followed railroad time.

During the 1870’s and 1880’s, Fleming proposed a standard world time with twenty-four one- hour zones, each covering fifteen degrees of latitude, using one prime meridian to coordinate clocks over the entire globe. His plan drew scientific endorsements, and President Chester A. Arthur called a Prime Meridian Conference for Washington, DC, in October, 1884, that adopted Fleming’s proposal, inaugurating true Standard Time.

Author Clark Blaise, a former writing program director, holds the reader’s interest through his smooth style and literary allusions. However, some assertions—such as claiming the success of Sherlock Holmes detective stories rested on the concept of standard time—seem farfetched.