Why Did Sandford Fleming Invent Worldwide Standard Time Zones?
Sir Sandford Fleming is known as the inventor of worldwide standard time, but what inspired his rather brilliant idea? A Canadian engineer of Scottish birth, Fleming was a prolific designer who was knighted for his accomplishments by Queen Victoria in 1897. He was born in Kirkcaldy, Scotland, in 1827, a period when regions used solar time to set their own clocks.
Fast-forward to Ireland in 1876, when a mistake printed in a timetable caused Fleming to miss his train, an incident which apparently inspired his proposal for the introduction of standardized time. He presented the idea of a worldwide standard time at a meeting of the Royal Canadian Institute (RCI) on February, 8, 1879.
Solar time worked well enough until trains came along and the need for standardized time arose, with the introduction of synchronized clocks also aiding weather forecasting. Fleming advocated for dividing the world into 24 time zones beginning at the Greenwich Meridian and spaced at 15 degree intervals. It followed the introduction of Greenwich Mean Time across Great Britain in 1847.
His proposal gave way to the International Prime Meridian Conference which convened in 1884 and was attended by 25 nations. It was here that Fleming’s system of international standard time was adopted.
After becoming an apprentice surveyor at the age of 14, Fleming emigrated, along with his older brother, to Canada in 1845 when he turned 18. He founded the RCI in 1849, an organization which grew into a world renowned centre dedicated to the advancement of science.
Fleming was also known for helping build the Intercontinental Railway, serving as chief engineer of the Canadian Pacific Railway, and designing Canada’s first postage stamp. He died aged 88 at the home of his daughter in Halifax, Nova Scotia, on July 22, 1915.