How did people keep accurate time in the past?

Thread: How did people keep accurate time in the past?

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  1. #1
    Member pradeep1's Avatar
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    How did people keep accurate time in the past?

    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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    Moderator Public Forum John MS's Avatar
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    Re: How did people keep accurate time in the past?

    Quote Originally Posted by pradeep1 View Post
    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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    Re: How did people keep accurate time in the past?

    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.
    Last edited by Janne; August 30th, 2009 at 20:06.

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    Member pradeep1's Avatar
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    Re: How did people keep accurate time in the past?

    Quote Originally Posted by Janne View Post
    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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    Re: How did people keep accurate time in the past?

    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.
    Last edited by Janne; August 30th, 2009 at 20:20.

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    Member pradeep1's Avatar
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    Re: How did people keep accurate time in the past?

    I found this interesting architectural clock in Jaipur, India built in the 1730s.

    It is called the samrat yantra and it can keep time within 2 seconds, day or night!

    http://broadcast.oreilly.com/2009/06/post-2.html

    http://www.jantarmantar.org/Architec...cience_web.pdf

    I've actually seen it in real life, but had forgotten about it.

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    Re: How did people keep accurate time in the past?

    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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    Re: How did people keep accurate time in the past?


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    Re: How did people keep accurate time in the past?

    Great thread.. learning a lot

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    Member link2derek's Avatar
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    Re: How did people keep accurate time in the past?

    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

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