Today, the Leif Ericson Millennium Commemorative Silver Dollar Coin recognizing an adventurous seaman remembers the first day of the prime meridian conference on October 1, 1884.
From the book, International Conference Held at Washington for the Purpose of Fixing a Prime Meridian and a Universal Day, October, 1884, Protocols of the Proceedings, published in 1884:
International Meridian Conference
Held in the City of Washington.
Session of October 1, 1884.
The Delegates to the International Meridian Conference, who assembled in Washington upon invitation addressed by the Government of the United States to all nations holding diplomatic relations with it, “for the purpose of fixing upon a meridian proper to be employed as a common zero of longitude and standard of time-reckoning throughout the globe,” held their first conference today, October 1, 1884, in the Diplomatic Hall of the Department of State.
The delegates were formally presented to the Secretary of State of the United States, the Honorable Frederick T. Frelinghuysen, in his office at 12 o’clock. Upon assembling in the Diplomatic Hall, he called the Conference to order, and spoke as follows:
Gentlemen: It gives me pleasure, in the name of the President of the United States, to welcome you to this Congress, where most of the nations of the earth are represented. You have met to discuss and consider the important question of a prime meridian for all nations. It will rest with you to give a definite result to the preparatory labors of other scientific associations and special congresses, and thus make those labors available.
Wishing you all success in your important deliberations, and not doubting that you will reach a conclusion satisfactory to the civilized world, I, before leaving you, take the liberty to nominate, for the purpose of a temporary organization, Count Lewenhaupt.
It will afford this Department pleasure to do all in its power to promote the convenience of the Congress and to facilitate its proceedings.
By the unanimous voice of the Conference the Delegate of Sweden, Count Lewenhaupt, took the chair, and said that, for the purpose of proceeding to a permanent organization, it was necessary to elect a President, and that he had the honor to propose for that office the chairman of the delegation of the United States of America, Admiral C. R. P. Rodgers.
The Conference agreed unanimously to the proposition thus made, whereupon Admiral Rodgers took the chair as President of the Conference, and made the following address:
Gentlemen: I beg you to receive my thanks for the high honor you have conferred upon me in calling me, as the chairman of the delegation from the United States, to preside at this Congress. To it have come from widely-separated portions of the globe, delegates renowned in diplomacy and science, seeking to create a new accord among the nations by agreeing upon a meridian proper to be employed as a common zero of longitude and standard of time reckoning throughout the world. Happy shall we be, if, throwing aside national preferences and inclinations, we seek only the common good of mankind, and gain for science and for commerce a prime meridian acceptable to all countries, and secured with the least possible inconvenience.
Having this object at heart, the Government of the United States has invited all nations with which it has diplomatic relations to send delegates to a Congress to assemble at Washington to-day, to discuss the question I have indicated. The invitation has been graciously received, and we are here this morning to enter upon the agreeable duty assigned to us by our respective governments.
Broad as is the area of the United States, covering a hundred degrees of longitude, extending from 66° 52′ west from Greenwich to 166° 13′ at our extreme limit in Alaska, not including the Aleutian Islands; traversed, as it is, by railway and telegraph lines, and dotted with observatories; long as is its sea coast, of more than twelve thousand miles; vast as must be its foreign and domestic commerce, its delegation to this Congress has no desire to urge that a prime meridian shall be found within its confines.
In my own profession, that of a seaman, the embarrassment arising from the many prime meridians now in use is very conspicuous, and in the valuable interchange of longitudes by passing ships at sea, often difficult and hurried, sometimes only possible by figures written on a black-board, much confusion arises, and at times grave danger. In the use of charts, too, this trouble is also annoying, and to us who live upon the sea a common prime meridian will be a great advantage.
Within the last two years we have been given reason to hope that this great desideratum may be obtained, and within a year a learned Conference, in which many nations were represented, expressed opinions upon it with singular unanimity, and in a very broad and catholic spirit.
I need not trespass further upon your attention, except to lay before you the subject we are invited to discuss: the choice of “a meridian to be employed as a common zero of longitude and standard of time reckoning throughout the world;” and I shall beg you to complete our organization by the election of a Vice-President, and the proper Secretaries necessary to the verification of our proceedings.
The Leif Ericson Millennium Commemorative Silver Dollar Coin shows with an image of a global map, by Gerardus Mercator in his Atlas Cosmographicae, circa 1595.
He used a prime meridian near 25°W, passing just to the west of Santa Maria Island in the Atlantic. He placed the 180th meridian along the Bering Strait.