Establishing The Prime Meridian: Time To Talk About Time


The meridian is an imaginary line that runs from the South Pole to the North Pole. The Prime Meridian is so named because it was arbitrarily chosen as a line of 0 degree longitude or the starting point for measuring time and distance around the planet, but who put it there and why?

Before The Prime Meridian

In the past, each major country had its own prime meridian and were built using their maps as a starting point, but as society became more global, non-standardized navigation maps became problematic. Time zones can also change from city to city, so people miss trains and merchants literally miss the boat. Recognizing the need of the world to come to an agreement about time zones, US President Chester A. Arthur called for representatives of the countries of the world to come together for an International Meridian Conference held in Washington, DC in 1884.

International Meridian Conference

Altogether 26 countries were represented at the conference, and although all agreed on the need to establish a global prime meridian, they did not agree on where it should be. After some debate over the merits of the lines crossing through Rome, Paris, Oslo, St Petersburg, Jerusalem, and more, the group settled on the one bisecting the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, England, with one in 24 time zones. Hours increased they move towards east and decrease towards west.

The International Meridian Conference also passed seven major resolutions, including the International Date Line, Universal Solar Day, and the standardization of navigation charts. These proposals were accepted by most countries, but there are some notable exceptions. For example, China is as wide as the United States, but it is the largest of the continental U.S. Operates on one time zone instead of the four found in .

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