Time of Stars is Elgin Guide, Part 2

The Watch Word,
75th Anniversary Special Issue, 1939

Coincident with the building of the observatory, temperature rooms were constructed for testing watches in quantities in different temperatures and positions.

This work was delegated to Frank D. Urie, Professor Payne's assistant, and who in 1926, was made superintendent of research and inspection. Professor Payne died in January 1928. A specially designed and equipped building for the work of temperature studies was erected in 1921.

Around the observatory, of which Ray S. Neidigh is now supervisor, have been woven projects which have appealed popularly to the general public. At the Century of Progress in Chicago in both 1933 and 1934, gates of the exposition were opened daily on the time determined at the Observatory in Elgin and relayed to the "time balls" at each gate.

At the New York World's Fair in 1939, the Elgin Observatory Building held a replica of the observatory equipment at Elgin, and thousands of people were diverted daily, by the story of telling time from the stars.

Each day the Elgin factory sends out' into the avenues of trade, more than 3,000 watches, and the one voice of authority to which they are attuned is the pulse beat of the master clock in the observatory, and whose authority is derived from the stars.

All Lord and Lady Elgins are tested for performance in this world-famous Observatory, and each bears an Elgin Observatory Certificate which is awarded for perfection of precision in timekeeping ability.

The equipment of the Observatory is not particularly spectacular. In fact the visitor entering the building sees little to distinguish it from an ordinary business office. There are desks and tables littered with records, books, calculation sheets and tablets. So the average visitor asks himself rhetorical questions:

"Where's the astronomy? Where are these stars I've heard about?"

And about that time he observes a light flash; he hears a click as of a shifting lever, a whirr of softly moving wheels. Lights blink here and there and the sound of rhythmic beats comes faintly to his ears. The unearthly silence-the isolation of the place-begin to penetrate the visitor and the feeling of being in a vast Presence gradually envelopes him. And at that point the tour to the silent halls of time control is launched.

The clock vault is an immaculate apartment. The floor and walls are studded with bulbs which flash on and off apparently without system, and queer electric fixtures are scattered here and there. Two stately and majestic clocks incased in glass stand side by side-probably the most perfect mechanisms of their species in the world. They are so superlatively perfect that a change in temperature of a fraction of a degree can affect the accuracy of time beat. Therefore the electrical gadgets which have been flashing on and off are accounted for. They automatically maintain a temperature which, year in and year out, does not vary two-tenths of one degree.

Each of the clocks, also, is set upon a pillar of concrete which extends deep into the subsoil, thus preventing transmission of vibrations from surrounding or adjacent surface disturbances. The clocks are wound each 36 seconds; automatically by electricity.

The regulation is a complicated affair. Because of the delicacy of the mechanism they are operated in a partial vacuum created within the glass cases inclosing taem. In this chamber the air pressure is held uniform, thus eliminating barometric corrections. When it comes to regulating, the act is performed by merely increasing or lowering the pressure. A change of one millimeter on the pressure gauge will result in a change of the rate of the clock of eighteen QIle-thousandths of a second per day.

Above the clock vault are the telescope room, the radio and the clock room. In the latter the secondary sidereal and the mean rime clocks stand side by side. They, too, as well as the telescope, are mounted on deep concrete piers. Here also is the chronograph installation, a drum arrangement which makes a complete revolution in exactly one minute. These exact minutes are reflected in the clock rate.

The telescope is set exactly north and south, as all time observations must be made on the meridian. A table of several hundred stars showing the hour, minute, second and thousandth of a second when each is due to cross the meridian on which our telescope is set, is at hand. In the eye-piece of the telescope there appears a group of wires. In reality each wire is a single strand so minute that it can hardly be seen with the naked eye.

The star appears as a bright point of light moving between the horizontal wires; in observing a star, the astronorner keeps it bisected by moving a vertical thread which is operated by turning a large micrometer screw. In the micrometer head are electrical contacts which automatically operate the chronograph. The result is an odd little jig in the line that the pen is tracing on the paper-covered recording drum. As there are ten of these vertical wires and a contact is made as the star passes each strand, it follows that there are ten little deflections in the record line that the pen is tracing-ten little points in the picture of that minute.

The time, by the sidereal clock, that the star crossed the meridian is obtained by placing a graduated scale on the chronograph sheet. In this manner each mark is read, and the average of the ten marks is the observed time by the clock when that star crossed the meridian. The difference between the correct time and our observed time is the amount that the clock is in error, or the "clock correction." Ten or more stars are observed on clear nights and the average of the whole set is taken as the clock correction, which is accurate to one-hundredth of a second.

The mean time clock which furnishes Standard time to the Elgin National Watch Company, cannot be allowed to run on rate, but must be kept as nearly correct as possible. This is done by making two daily comparisons with the sidereal clock. The mean time clock is rarely in error as much as ten hundredths of a second.

In every room in the factory where the movements are rated or regulated, is a sounder telling the seconds with a click like that of a telegraph instrument. Each of these instruments is wired directly to the mean time clock in the observatory.

Here is where the heart-beats of the master clock make time-correct timefor the world. The one voice of authority to which they are attuned is the pulsebeat of the master clock, whose authority is derived, through its sidereal sister and the telescope, from the stars-those fixed, flaming markers of the heavens from which the astronomers have learned that the revolution of the earth does not vary one one-hundredths of a second in a thousand years.

In the manufacture of watches a reliable, continuous time-service is essential. The accuracy of the adj ustments to position and temperature and of the regulation of watches is dependent upon the accuracy of the timepiece with which they are compared while these adjustments are being effected. Any error ill the master time-piece will cause a corresponding error in the adjustment and regulation of the watches, no matter how skillfully and accurately the adjuster may do his work.

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