Telegraphing the Time

St. Nicholas

IT is three minutes to nine o'clock at night. The official in charge of a great observatory, the Goodsell Observatory, Northfield, Minn., is preparing to send out the time to the people living in his section of America. For sixty seconds he rattles away on a telegraph instrument at his desk, spelling out the word "time, time, time;" then he waits an instant. Then he turns to his telegraph key again. Eleven thousand miles of wire are open to him; he is ruler of them all. Every telegraph instrument in all the vast territory of which the Goodsell Observatory is the center is silent; every operator has taken his hand from his key; throughout the whole length of these thousands of miles there is a strange silence.

The seconds are slowly ticking away. Above the head of the observer there is a great observatory clock. At precisely two minutes to nine, after the telegraphers all along the miles of wire have been notified and have withdrawn their hands from the keys, the wires are switched into a connection with the very clock itself and all along the eleven thousand miles there is no sound but the tick, tick, tick of the observatory clock. Every beat of the great arteries of commerce is stopped; every throb of the news of all lands going out night by night over these wires from the great heart of the world ceases; even the sad messages of death and suffering, as well as the gay ones that tell of little babies born and young folks married and reunions of friends promised—all these must wait while the great clock on the wall makes itself understood in the language of time and eternity over these many thousands of miles.

Something strangely solemn is in one's thoughts as he stands beside the observer amid the silent seconds while the clock ticks on. Whoever is listening at the wire along its course, waiting to set his watch, whether he be a railroad employee or some man in a large jeweler's establishment where the people go to get their timepieces regulated, knows the system, and knows that there is a sudden pause just before the exact stroke of nine o'clock—a broken beat in the ticking. Then all carefully note their timepieces as the clock in the observatory ticks the nine-o'clock second. Thus they can tell to the second whether their watches are fast or slow or precisely right.

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The Value of Simplicity
July 24, 1902

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