[tz] uniform time in Switzerland in second half of 19th century

Alois Treindl alois at astro.ch
Tue Sep 10 20:28:26 UTC 2013

I will research this further.

For the moment I can offer from the Historical Lexicon of Switzerland
this excerpt:

Die Gründung des Bundesstaats 1848 brachte keine Vereinheitlichung der 
Z. Weiterhin richtete sich jede Ortschaft nach ihrer jeweiligen 
Lokalzeit. Die Zeitdifferenz zwischen dem östlichsten Punkt des Landes 
im Val Müstair und dem westlichsten im Kt. Genf betrug rund 18 Minuten. 
Mit dem Aufbau eines Telegrafienetzes ab 1852 wurden die unterschiedl. 
Lokalzeiten erstmals zum Problem, denn die Beschleunigung der 
Kommunikation verlangte nach einem einheitl. Zeitsystem. 1853 verfügte 
der zuständige Bundesrat für den gesamten Post- und Telegrafieverkehr 
des Landes die mittlere Lokalzeit von Bern als Einheitszeit. Diese wurde 
ab 1860 täglich vom Observatorium Neuenburg bestimmt und der 
Telegrafendirektion in Bern zur Verfügung gestellt. Auch der Betrieb der 
Eisenbahnen richtete sich nach der mittleren Lokalzeit von Bern, die in 
der 2. Hälfte des 19. Jh. zur fakt. Landeszeit wurde.

my translation:

The founding of the federal state in 1848 did not bring a unification of 
time. Each town followed its local time. The time difference between the 
most eastern points of the country in Val Mustair and the most western 
point in Canton Geneve was around 18 minutes.

With the construction of a telegraph network since 1852, the different 
local times became a problem, as the acceleration of communication 
demanded a uniform system of time. 1853 the federal government issued 
the local time of Bern as standard time for the complete post and 
telegraph traffic. Since 1860, this time was provided by the Neuenburg 
observatory on a daily basis to the central telegraph office in Bern. 
Also the railway traffic followed the uniform local mean time of Bern, 
which became the effective time of all the country in the second half of 
the 19th century.


So the fact that Bern mean time was the uniform time of all of 
Switzerland is established, despite anecdotal evidence of deviations. TZ 
data deals with legal standard time after all, less so with local 

The open point remains an exact date of introduction. It seems to have 
been gradual between 1851 and 1860, in my opinion. It will probably not 
be possible to establish an exact date, but I will research further.

On 10.09.13 19:26, Paul Eggert wrote:
> Alois Treindl wrote:>
>> All Swiss timezone history sources in astrology books and data
>> collections maintain that all of Switzerland was legally on Berne
>> time, starting 1851, until the introduction of CET on 1 June 1894.
> That disagrees with Shanks and with the tz data, but I
> suppose we should trust Swiss astrology books over Shanks
> for Swiss data.  Is there a specific astrology-book source
> for that?  Also, exactly when in 1851 was the transition?
> And what exactly was Berne time's offset from GMT?
> (Shanks gives two values, which disagree!)
> Do these Swiss astrology books give sources?  For example,
> if there was an 1851 Swiss federal law, what law was it?
> Given the information I've seen already, I think it unlikely
> that all of Switzerland (save Geneva) switched at the same
> time.  I think it more likely that the Neuchatel Observatory
> established a standard (perhaps with some legal backing) and
> that various localities adopted the standard one by one.
>> There may be anecdotal evidence that some church clocks handled
>> it differently
> There sure is.  Here's another.  On May 15, 1905, Albert Einstein
> moved to the edge of Bern's unified time zone.  A neighboring
> clock tower in Muri kept a different time -- thus helping inspire
> Einstein to the special theory of relativity.
> Yes, this is just anecdotal evidence and yes, this was
> after 1894 so the Muri clock was likely nonstandard, but the
> point is that circa-1900 civil Swiss timekeeping was not as
> uniform as modern observers might naively imagine.  And the Swiss
> were the best timekeepers of the day....
>> My source at hand: Gabriel, Traite de l'heure dans le monde, edition 1991.
> Ah, so Gabriel agrees with Shanks for Vaduz.  Does Gabriel give
> sources?  If Gabriel was compiled the same way that Shanks was and
> doesn't give sources, then I'm afraid I wouldn't trust Gabriel
> much either, as most likely Gabriel is just guessing too.  But
> if there are sources that would be another matter.
> My source for Einstein:
> Galison P.  Einstein's clocks: the place of time.
> Critical Inquiry 2000;26(2:)355-89
> http://www.jstor.org/stable/1344127

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