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“The Three-Handed Clock and the Standardization of Time in Sweden”

Conference contribution
Authors Johan Kärnfelt
Published in Biennial History of Astronomy Workshop - ND XIII July 5-9, 2017 - abstracts
Publication year 2017
Published at Department of Literature, History of Ideas, and Religion
Language en
Links https://www3.nd.edu/~histast/worksh...
Keywords Time, Railways, Railwaytime
Subject categories History of Ideas, Astronomy, Astrophysics and Cosmology


In 1862, with the inauguration of the national railway between Sweden’s two main cities, Stockholm on the east coast and Gothenburg on the west coast, Swedes had to get used to a new device, the three-handed clock. Up until then telling time had been a quite straightforward task; you made a stop at a watchmaker’s shop and adjusted your watch in accordance with the local mean solar time made available by the watch master. But since it was impractical, even impossible, to manage railway time tables on local solar time-it differs 24 minutes between the two cities-railway officials had decided to use the local mean solar time for Gothenburg’s meridian as official railway time in Sweden. Thus, and up until the introduction of a national standard time in 1879, Swedes that needed to travel had to keep in mind the difference between the local time on their watches, and the time used on the railways. To help administer this all clocks on station buildings had two minute handles, one telling local time, and one railway time. Starting with the three-handed clock my presentation will focus on the process leading up to the 1879 reform, especially the role played by the astronomical expertise at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. Throughout the nineteenth century the Academy was an important consultative body for the government in all issues with bearing on scientific matters, and it was the Academy’s astronomers that drew up the plans for a Swedish standard time.

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