1884 International Meridian Conference

In the 1860s and 1870s trans-oceanic telegraph cables connected distant regions of the world with a delay of only seconds, stable chronometers were enabling accurate determinations of marine positions, and there was no worldwide agreement on the meaning of these temporal and geographic coordinates. In 1882 the United States Congress directed President Chester A. Arthur to inquire of the world about the desirability of creating an international agreement on time and longitude. In 1883 the European geodetic conference endorsed the notion, and the US President issued an invitation to meet in Washington DC in 1884. The International Meridian Conference produced results which still have significant influence over the agreed notions of time.

Joseph S. Myers of Cambridge University scanned a copy of the 1884 International Meridian Conference. He then submitted the scans to the folks of Project Gutenberg. The result is this etext of the proceedings of the International Meridian Conference held in Washington in 1884.

The original scans have been and continue to be online via this page. They are available as 300 dpi TIFF images in the following forms:

The IMC proceedings often refer to a meeting in Rome ``last year''. Held in Rome in October of 1883 was a Geodetic Conference apparently known as the 7th General Conference of the European Arc Measurement. At that conference the possibilities of a prime meridian and a universal time were discussed (again), but no final agreement was reached. These geodetic conferences were forerunners of the International Association of Geodesy.

R.H. van Gent provides this web page full of references, see the bottom of the page for links to other online journal articles about the consequences of the 1884 IMC. He also pointed out the Federal Records of the US Commissioner to the 1884 IMC noting that section 43.2.4 has some of the letters in the protocols.

Elsewhere on the net is this photograph of the delegates to the International Meridian Conference.

Front Matter
Inside Front Cover (blank)
Title Page, Imprimateur, Date
Library Seal
Table of Contents
Overleaf (blank)
Session I, 1884-10-01 (Wednesday)
Page 1 Delegates
Page 2
Page 3
Page 4
Page 5 Opening Address, Secretary of State
Page 6 Adm. Rodgers unanimously to preside
Page 7 Opening Remarks, no vice-president
Page 8 secretaries and their function?
Page 9
Page 10 should meetings be open to public?
Page 11
Page 12 (blank)
Session II, 1884-10-02 (Thursday)
Page 13
Page 14 Committee to select secretaries.
Page 15 Resolution to invite astronomers.
Page 16 Lefaivre (France) objects.
Page 17
Page 18 Astronomers invited. Might they talk?
Page 19 Vote on may astronomers speak freely?
Page 20 Vote fails. They may speak at request.
Page 21 Visitors not to attend.
Page 22 How to deal with external submissions?
Page 23 Rutherford (US) proposes Greenwich.
Page 24 Lefaivre (France) objects.
Page 25
Page 26 Resolution to adopt some prime meridian
Page 27 (relevance of Rome conference to this)
Page 28 unanimously passes. Greenwich again.
Page 29 Janssen (France) reacts.
Page 30
Page 31 Purpose of this conference? ...
Page 32 ... to recommend a prime meridian ...
Page 33 adjourn to discuss purpose over weekend
Page 34 (blank)
Session III, 1884-10-06 (Monday)
Page 35 Role call.
Page 36 Greenwich as prime? Prime be neutral?
Page 37 Rome again. Cmdr. Sampson (US) ...
Page 38
Page 39 ... meridian through an observatory ...
Page 40 ... economy argues for Greenwich ...
Page 41 Rutherford (US) on Paris
Page 42 Janssen and Lefaivre (France) rebut
Page 43 Janssen (France) begins ...
Page 44 ... "point of departure" ...
Page 45 ...Marinus of Tyre and Ptolemy, Ferro...
Page 46 ...Congress of Rome the previous year...
Page 47 ... Greenwich, Paris, and good will ...
Page 48 ... existing usage of Paris meridian ...
Page 49 ... neutrality of metric system ...
Page 50 ... everyone should have to change ...
Page 51 Adams (GB) says Janssen sentimental ...
Page 52 ... practicality over neutrality ...
Page 53 ...need observatory. Janssen (France)
Page 54 about pride and English. Abbe (US)...
Page 55 says neutrality is a myth. Janssen on
Page 56 metric Frenchness and neutrality ...
Page 57 ... history of Ferro. Adams (GB) on
Page 58 astronomy of longitude. Janssen on
Page 59 geopolitics of longitude. Newcomb (US)
Page 60 on practicality of point of departure...
Page 61 ... no absolutes ...
Page 62 ...no neutrality. Janssen on Old World
Page 63 vs. New World, meridian in Atlantic ...
Page 64 ...Neptune discovery credit for Adams...
Page 65 ...pride poisons existing options.
Page 66 Is neutrality possible?
Page 67 Can astronomy and geography be distinct?
Page 68 What is neutrality?
Page 69 Where is neutrality? Recess.
Page 70 protocols, French stenographers
Page 71 need proofs printed before next meeting
Page 72 (blank)
Session IV, 1884-10-13 (Monday)
Page 73 Roll call.
Page 74 President selects communications cmte.
Page 75 French stenographer. Fleming (GB) ...
Page 76 ... futility of neutral meridian ...
Page 77 table of shipping -- 72% use Greenwich
Page 78 Prime meridian opposite Greenwich?
Page 79 Letter from Struve in support of above.
Page 80 Cruls (Brazil) ...
Page 81 Brazil supports a neutral meridian...
Page 82 ...prime meridian must be unanimous...
Page 83 ...therefore it must be neutral.
Page 84 Vote on resolution of neutrality fails.
Page 85 Rutherford (US) distributed resolutions.
Page 86 conference at Rome on longitude and day
Page 87
Page 88
Page 89
Page 90 Strachey (GB) says GB will go metric.
Page 91 Lefaivre (France) science cannot choose
Page 92 ...the prime meridian ...
Page 93
Page 94 Thomson: Greenwich is practical, and
Page 95 some sacrifice will be needed.
Page 96 Evans (GB) facts on navigation usage ...
Page 97... tables of Admiralty charts ...
Page 98
Page 99, vote on Greenwich meridian passes
Page 100 de Struve (Russia) on Rome conference...
Page 101 ...reckoning of time and longitude.
Page 102
Page 103, letter from American railways
Page 104
Page 105 Sampson (US) on navigational practices.
Page 106 discussion on interests of seamen
Page 107 Pastorin (Spain) proposal--out of order
Page 108 Strachey (GB): reckoning longitude/time
Page 109 discontinuity somewhere. Adams (GB) ...
Page 110 just choose +/- directions. Discuss ...
Page 111 ... no consensus. Adjourn.
Page 112, (blank)
Session V, 1884-10-14 (Tuesday)
Page 113 Role Call.
Page 114 review status of active proposals
Page 115 Re-iterate Rutherford resolution
Page 116 Fleming (GB) on longitude vs. time ...
Page 117 ... communities no longer isolated ...
Page 118 ... standard time systems ...
Page 119 ... reform necessary ...
Page 120 ... difficulty of change ...
Page 121 ... Cosmic time not unattainable ...
Page 122 Recommendations for the Regulation of...
Page 123 ... Time and the Reckoning of ...
Page 124 ... Longitude.
Page 125 Fleming concludes. Adams (GB) begins...
Page 126 ...Rutherford proposal is best...
Page 127 Adams concludes. Rutherford (US) begins
Page 128 ...on convenience. Evans (GB) on ...
Page 129 ...practice. Strachey (GB) on 180th ...
Page 130 ... meridian discontinuity and date ...
Page 131 discontinuity. Pastorin (Spain) ...
Page 132
Page 133
Page 134
Page 135
Page 136
Page 137 ...popular tolerance of universal day...
Page 138 ... issues of standard time ...
Page 139 ... existing use of standard time ...
Page 140 ... extending use of standard time ...
Page 141 ... desirability of standard time ...
Page 142
Page 143 Strachey (GB) on Rome resolutions
Page 144 Resolution not to designate local time
Page 145 Vote on local time resolution fails
Page 146 Resolution on universal day -- passes
Page 147
Page 148
Page 149
Page 150 Adjourn until Monday.
Session VI, 1884-10-20 (Monday)
Page 151 Role call.
Page 152 letters sent to the conference
Page 153 committee reports on letters
Page 154
Page 155
Page 156 Rutherford resolution on universal day,
Page 157 Swedish amendment. Janssen on telegram.
Page 158 del Arbol (Spain) proposes amendment ...
Page 159 ...day should begin opposite Rome...
Page 160 ...in accord with Gregorian calendar...
Page 161 ...because most of world uses that.
Page 162 Adams (GB) responds.
Page 163
Page 164
Page 165 del Arbol (Spain) on difficulties of UT
Page 166 Pastorin (Spain) questions permanence...
Page 167 ... confusion and practicality ...
Page 168 Pastorin offers resolutions
Page 169
Page 170 Adams (GB) responds on meaning of day...
Page 171 ...calculation of time...
Page 172 ...
Page 173 Adams reads letter from Valentiner.
Page 174 Strachey (GB) requests Hilgard to speak.
Page 175 Hilgard speaks. Evans (GB) offers ...
Page 176 midnight best. Discuss seaman practice.
Page 177 Vote on day reckoned from Greenwich noon
Page 178 Vote fails. Effendi (Turkey) speaks...
Page 179 ...on time in Ottoman Empire...
Page 180 ... and conference acknowledges.
Page 181
Page 182
Page 183 Janssen (France): decimal angle/time ...
Page 184 ... was encouraged at Rome conference.
Page 185 Resolution on decimal angle and time ...
Page 186 out of order. Appeal. Vote on appeal.
Page 187 Vote says decimal angle is in order.
Page 188
Page 189
Page 190 Lewenhaupt (Sweden) reads from Gylden...
Page 191 ... on meridians for standard time ...
Page 192 ... in Europe, 10 time minutes apart ...
Page 193 ... and elsewhere in the world ...
Page 194 Adjourn
Session VII, 1884-10-22 (Wednesday)
Page 195 Roll call.
Page 196 Galvan (San Domingo) vis a vis France
Page 197 Strachey (GB) amendments, to withdraw?
Page 198
Page 199, Final Act
Page 200
Page 201
Page 202
Page 203 All resolutions to go to US government.
Page 204 Adjourn until protocols are ready.
Session VIII, 1884-11-01 (Saturday)
Page 205
Page 206 Thanks to secretaries.
Page 207, conclusion and adjournment
Page 208, (blank)
Page 209
Page 210
Page 211
Page 212
Page 213, (blank)

Steve Allen <sla@ucolick.org>
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