Thursday, January 29, 2015

That Time DC Tried To Be The Center of The World

Check out this map of Virginia from 1845:

And check out this note at the top of it:

That's right, the Prime Meridian of this map puts 0 degrees longitude right through Washington, DC. Fair enough, you might say, Virginia is right next to DC. Perhaps this was some sort of anomaly. Well, consider this map of Iowa created in 1845:

The top of the map reads "Longitude West From Greenwich", but check out the bottom of the map:

There it is again, "Longitude West from Washington."

These aren't just Cartographers Gone Wild, they're following the guidelines set forth by one Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson:

Jefferson wished for the United States to become scientifically as well as politically independent from Europe, so he wished for the new national capital itself to be a new "first meridian".

That's right, if Europe can have their own Prime Meridian, then why can't we have one? Many a politician may act as though Washington, DC is the center of the world, but Thomas Jefferson wanted to make it official. Heck, he did make it official.

But then came the Prime Meridian International Conference of 1884, and all those shenanigans came to an end. When the debate was all said and done, 22 out of the 25 countries agreed:

"That the Conference proposes to the Governments here represented the adoption of the meridian passing through the centre of the transit instrument at the Observatory of Greenwich as the initial meridian for longitude."

France and Brazil abstained, and San Domingo put their foot down and voted no. Not surprisingly, France, Brazil and Dan Domingo that voted yes to this provision:

Resolved, That the initial meridian should have a character of absolute neutrality. It should be chosen exclusively so as to secure to science and to international commerce all possible advantages, and especially should cut no great continent—neither Europe nor America.

In the end, Greenwich won out, and now anytime I have a time in UTC format, I need to bust out TimeAndDate.com to make sense of it. If Jefferson's plan had worked, I'd be *in* UTC time.

You may be curious what brought all this on. Last night I ran to Meridian Hill Park, so named because it sits on the former Prime Meridian. Meridian Hill Park is a truly interesting place, with truly interesting statues. But when I arrived at 9pm last night, it was truly spooky. Here's a spooky tree:

I look forward to returning to the park in the daylight when I can find the state of a woman riding a horse in DC (there are 30+ equestrian statues in DC), among other gems.

DC is just full of surprises.

Update Just so happens David and I were a few blocks from another American Meridian related site. This one is found on the streets surrounding George Washington University, and it's similar to the line in Greenwich, though with a whole lot less fan fair. I've been in that GW neighborhood dozens of times and never ran across it:

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