Biography of Sir Sandford Fleming (1827-1915)

Scottish Invented Standard Time in 1878

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Sir Sandford Fleming was an engineer and inventor responsible for a variety of innovations, most notably the modern system of standard time and time zones.

Early Life

Fleming was born in 1827 in Kirkcaldy, Scotland and emigrated to Canada in 1845 at the age of 17. He first worked as a surveyor and later became a railway engineer for the Canadian Pacific Railway. He founded the Royal Canadian Institute in Toronto in 1849. While originally an organization for engineers, surveyors, and architects, it would evolve into an institution for the advancement of science in general.

Sir Sandford Fleming - Father of Standard Time

Sir Sandford Fleming advocated the adoption of a standard time or mean time, as well as hourly variations from that according to established time zones. Fleming's system, still in use today, established Greenwich, England (at 0 degrees longitude) as the standard time, and divides the world into 24 time zones, each a fixed time from the mean time. Fleming was inspired to create the standard time system after he missed the train in Ireland due to confusion over the time of departure.

Fleming first recommended the standard to the Royal Canadian Institute in 1879, and he was instrumental in convening the 1884 International Prime Meridian Conference in Washington, at which the system of international standard time — still in use today — was adopted. Fleming was behind the adoption of the present time meridians in both Canada and the U.S.

Before Fleming's time revolution, time of day was a local matter, and most cities and towns used some form of local solar time, maintained by some well-known clock (for example, on a church steeple or in a jeweler's window).

Standard time in time zones was not established in U.S. law until the Act of March 19, 1918, sometimes called the Standard Time Act.

Other Inventions

A few of Sir Sandford Fleming's other achievements:

  • Designed the first Canadian postage stamp. The three-penny stamp issued in 1851 had a beaver on it (the national animal of Canada).
  • Designed an early in-line skate in 1850.
  • Surveyed for the first railroad route across Canada
  • Was the head engineer for most of the Intercolonial Railway and the Canadian Pacific Railway.
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Bellis, Mary. "Biography of Sir Sandford Fleming (1827-1915)." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, Bellis, Mary. (2020, August 26). Biography of Sir Sandford Fleming (1827-1915). Retrieved from Bellis, Mary. "Biography of Sir Sandford Fleming (1827-1915)." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 22, 2023).