The service of the right time


The Loebner clock,
1880s
(TÜAM, photo V. Valder)

Before the wide-scale use of the railway and telegraph the local time suited people well and it could be determined by the movement of celestial bodies. When the exactly functioning chronometers were invented, being able to preserve the time taken along from the home port, it was possible to establish the geographical longitude comparing the time of the home port with the local time.

At the international meridian conference in 1884 it was agreed to use the time of the time zone considering the zero meridian passing through Greenwich. In the Russian Empire only railway could start using the universal time (St. Petersburg’s time). Different areas used mainly the local time but the areas closer to the capital oriented themselves to the capital. For example, in Tartu the change to St. Petersburg’s time took place on 3 January 1898 and in Tallinn on 1 January 1899.

The information about the transfer to the time of St. Petersburg, published by the newspaper Postimees on 3. January 1898.

After becoming independent in 1918, the young Estonian republic had to establish its time service. In the spring of 1919 the Maritime Observatory started its work in Tallinn with Professor Erich Schoenberg as its head. The task of the observatory was to make weather forecasts for seafarers and keep the service of the right time based on the local time of Tallinn. In the spring of 1920 the Maritime Observatory finished its activities and the tasks were handed over to the Tartu University. On 1 May 1921, as proposed by the astronomers of the Tartu Observatory, Estonia started to use Eastern European time. It is used in Estonia today but differently from the pre-war period now the summer time, which is one hour ahead of the Eastern European time, is used from the last Sunday of March until the last Sunday in October.

The decree of the Minister of Education of the Republic of Estonia to obligate the Tartu Observatory establish the right time from 16 February 1921 (TÜAM)

On 1 May 1921, as proposed by the astronomers of the Tartu Observatory, Estonia started to use Eastern European time. It is used in Estonia today but differently from the pre-war period now the summer time, which is one hour ahead of the Eastern European time, is used from the last Sunday of March until the last Sunday in October.

As the observation equipment in the observatory was outdated, the exact time was not established here but the radioed time signals of other observatories were received. On this basis the corrections to the observatory clock were made. The time signals to the whole country were sent by telegraph because at that time radio receivers were not yet widely used. For this purpose each day at 12.55 all the Estonian telegraph apparatuses were joined to the apparatus in the observatory. During the following four minutes a big number of Morse points were sent out and then after the one-minute pause the point denoting exactly 13 o’clock sharp was sent out. This work had to be done by the junior assistant and the servant of the observatory.

As a memorial of this time the Loebner clock has survived and in the South-Eastern corner of the observatory’s garden there is an iron mast of the antenna.

In the Soviet Union people lived according to the Moscow time and time signals were transferred by radio.

Transfer of the signal of the right time in the 1920s (TÜAM)
The telegraph apparatus used for the transfer of the signals of the right time. R. Fuess, Berlin (TÜAM, photo T. Pung)