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With the advent of atomic clocks and cheap quartz watches, keeping time within a few seconds of true time is not a big deal.

But how did people, say, just 125 years ago keep accurate enough time to keep trains from crashing into each other or make accurate astronomical observations? How was a standard official time maintained if all people had were winding watches?
 

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With the advent of atomic clocks and cheap quartz watches, keeping time within a few seconds of true time is not a big deal.

But how did people, say, just 125 years ago keep accurate enough time to keep trains from crashing into each other or make accurate astronomical observations? How was a standard official time maintained if all people had were winding watches?
Read up on the history of railroads and railroad watches. In general timekeepers were sufficient for the situation. A farmer could make do with no timekeeper other than a calendar of sorts to track months and the season. Although depending on the century there may have been a village church with a clock.
 

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The first real need for highly accurate timekeeping was in Navigation.
So a British watchmaker constructed the chronometer in stages, starting around 1730.

Before that, there was no need for highly accurate timekeeping. the vast majority of the population were farmers, and they did/do not need accurate time keeping.
The working day was very fluid:
You rise at sunrise, eat, go to the work, eat, rest, go to work again, go home, eat, sleep. On Sundays - god's resting day- you worked less but had to go to church !

Also, you would be surprised the accurancy of a solar dial!

Edit:
Also, 135 years ago, most, if not all, churches had a fairly accurate clock. if you were lucky to own a watch, you syncronised it with the church clock from time to time.
I do not know how the Church warden knew the accurate time though!
Of course, as John mentiones, the Railway time keeping was highly accurate, so if your village had a station or was close to a railway line you knew pretty accurantly the time.

The modern, down-to-a fraction-of-a-second timekeeping is really not neccesary. + or- a couple of minutes is good enough.
 

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Discussion Starter #4
The first real need for highly accurate timekeeping was in Navigation.
So a British watchmaker constructed the chronometer in stages, starting around 1730.

Before that, there was no need for highly accurate timekeeping. the vast majority of the population were farmers, and they did/do not need accurate time keeping.
The working day was very fluid:
You rise at sunrise, eat, go to the work, eat, rest, go to work again, go home, eat, sleep. On Sundays - god's resting day- you worked less but had to go to church !

Also, you would be surprised the accurancy of a solar dial!

Edit:
Also, 135 years ago, most, if not all, churches had a fairly accurate clock. if you were lucky to own a watch, you syncronised it with the church clock from time to time.
I do not know how the Church warden knew the accurate time though!
Of course, as John mentiones, the Railway time keeping was highly accurate, so if your village had a station or was close to a railway line you knew pretty accurantly the time.

The modern, down-to-a fraction-of-a-second timekeeping is really not neccesary. + or- a couple of minutes is good enough.

Thanks for that information. Yeah, I remember that my father back in India would set his winding watch to the local clocktower in town, which was next to the railway line, so they used the same clock.

But who or how was an "official" time kept?

Was there even a way to do this?
 

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In UK (in Greenwitch) they calculated the Mean Solar Time at first.
then they used Mr Harrison's clock.

I checked Wikipedia, and they have an interesting article there. Search on "Time".
As you live in India, 135 years ago it was under British rule, so I guess they had an offshoot of Greenwich somewhere.

edit:
Yes, there is a very simple way to calculate the time: When the sun is at the highest point on the sky, it is Noon (12).
That is how a solar dial works. of course, it only works during the day when not too many clouds obstruct the sun, as you need the shadow.
 

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I was just going to post about that Observatory.
I saw a program on TV about it some years ago. Hosted by a Mr Cruickshank (or similar)
With that size, apparently it was incredibly precise.
A wonder of the Scientific World, that Observatory!
 

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Back in the day, before I bought my first watch, I would just tell time by the position of the sun. I was usually within a couple of hours, give or take. :-d

D
 

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With the advent of atomic clocks and cheap quartz watches, keeping time within a few seconds of true time is not a big deal.

But how did people, say, just 125 years ago keep accurate enough time to keep trains from crashing into each other or make accurate astronomical observations? How was a standard official time maintained if all people had were winding watches?
125 years ago... Well, with something like this:

enigma_held.jpg

This is one of my pocket watches, I believe it is about 120 years old. Cylindre escapement, but still keeps a pretty good time - especially after I took it apart, cleaned it and put some nice fresh oil in.

It seems like you are "misunderestimating" (Copyright George W. Bush) our ancestors greatly. They were far more advanced than what it would appear, whenever I am reading up some history I find myself forced to correct my assumptions. What they lacked in technology, they compensated by sheer brainpower. Computers for instance are an ancient discovery, predating the discovery of electricity, let alone semiconductors (read up on Charles Babbage and his differential engine, also on Ada Lovelace, the first programmer).

Our conception of standard time is a pretty recent notion, made necessary by advances in transport (e.g. steam engine). Before that, there was not really a need for a synchronised time. Every town and/or region used its own astronomical time. This could be determined by lots of different methods to a great level of precision - as long as you know your coordinates, that was no problem. Those maintaining public clocks probably kept them going very accurately, however it would hardly have made any difference even if they were off. It just wasn't as important. Early watches lacked a minute hand and showed only the hour, and could be inaccurate to the tune of several hours a day, but that didn't matter either.

For astronomical measurements and such, there were specialised and rather precise time measurement devices. The properties of pendula have been known for a very long time, and were used to measure time - although not tied into and powered by a mechanism. Someone would simply sit by it, keep it going and count the swings. There were also clepsidras, hourglasses etc., and probably some other things I'm not aware of. Of course, if you are an astronomer, you could simply use the movement of known celestial bodies to time the movement of others.

I find this topic rather fascinating... How easy it is to forget that the people of ancient times were incredibly smart and assume you are somehow superior to them... Well, we're not. We just have google.
 
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