by a Thinker, Sailor, Blogger, Irreverent Guy from Madras

Sandford Fleming Google Doodle and Madras Time

Today, 07 January, is the birthday of Sandford Fleming, with 2017 being his 190th, and Google honoured the occasion with a Doodle.  But what is the connection between Madras Time, or its later avatar as Indian Standard Time, and Sandford Fleming?  Especially since Madras Time predates his birth?  Read on, for the 4 major quirks on the subject.

Sir Sandford Fleming was born in Scotland in 1827, emigrated to Canada in 1845.  He as the Chief Engineer for the Canadian Inter-Colonial Railway built it in 1872.  While visiting Ireland in 1876, he missed his connecting train – because those days each locality (county, state, province, colony or country) followed its own local time, set at their fancy – and people moving around quickly, which meant railways, faced problems in time conversions.

So, when he returned to Canada, he proposed that the whole world be divided into 24 uniform Time Zones, with 15 degrees of Longitude in each zone.  This proposal was floated by him in 1879, and was adopted by 25 nations in International Meridian Conference in 1884.

In India, there was the Madras Time, established in 1802, by the first Royal Observatory in India at Madras (est. 1786) and was in wide use.

And here is the first quirk.  It predates even GMT, which came into usage on ships only from 1833, and was adopted by (British) railway companies for their Time Synchronisation through its telegraph service only from 1852, and would not be legally adopted throughout Britain till 1880.

At the Conference in 1884, two official Time Zones for India were announced – Calcutta Time and Bombay Time, with no reference to Madras Time Zone at all.

But here arose the second quirk.  The Indian Railways continued to use Madras Time, because only the Madras Observatory was equipped to transmit Time Signals through telegraph to synchronize time at railway stations.  Thus Madras Time became known as Railway Time.

In 1906, the Indian Standard Time (IST) was established, by adding 9 minutes to Madras Time (GMT+05:21) to round it to GMT+05:30 (actually the rounded Longitude was adopted).  Gradually the Indian Railways moved to IST, however local Calcutta and Bombay Time Zones continued till 1948 and 1955 respectively.

Now for the third quirk.  Because Calcutta Time achieved more prominence (as Calcutta served as British Capital till 1911), till recently on Windows, and even now in Linux Systems, the IST is represented as Asia/Kolkata.

However, there is a different quirk in the Google Doodle celebrating the 190th birthday of Sir Sandford Fleming.  The Doodle itself is not displayed on the Google home pages of countries across all 24 Time Zones!

Whatever, enjoy the Doodle.


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