Media Release

News | 1 November 2018

NZ’s bold step to standard time 150 years ago.

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Measurement Standards Laboratory NZ

01 November 2018

NZ’s bold step to standard time 150 years ago

Tomorrow, 2 November 2018, marks 150years since New Zealand became the first country in the world to implement a standard time across the nation.

Up until 1868, each region operated by its own time, largely based around the midday sun, which varies from place to place. Invercargill was 25 minutes ahead of Wellington, for instance. It wasn’t until the arrival of the telegraph and the steam train network that the need arose for accurate regional and national timekeeping.

To celebrate the anniversary, the country’s official time keepers at our national Measurement Standards Laboratory (MSL) are partnering with the Ministry of Culture and Heritage(external link) and the National Library(external link) to hold a public event in Wellington this evening. The Old Government Buildings clock in Wellington will also have coloured lighting throughout November to mark the occasion.

“150 years ago New Zealand took a bold step against the status quo when we implemented a standard time right across the country. It might not seem like much today, but the decision fed much debate,” says MSL Director, Dr Fleur Francois.

 “Ultimately, New Zealand saw the benefits of a united, less confusing national time. Not surprisingly, it wasn’t long until other countries followed suit. To this day we continue to be held in high regard internationally for our role in the science and application of time.”

MSL is the official go-to organisation for the country’s most accurate time. It maintains this accuracy through three precious caesium atomic clocks (three for assurance!).These clocks are so accurate that they lose less than a second in 30,000 years. MSL’s time is constantly checked and communicated with New Zealand and the rest of the world, ensuring organisations that require extremely precise time measurements have the most accurate tools.

“Time is a complex science, an art even. We take it for granted because there’s always a trusted source. But a lot of work goes on in the background to keep things ticking,” Dr Francois says.

“It’s not just making sure we’re on time for things like airplane flights. It’s about keeping those airplanes safely in the air with precision down to the split millisecond – for scheduling, determining flight paths, speed calculations and constant rerouting.

“This 150th anniversary is a great opportunity to stop and appreciate the fine art behind time. It won’t be long before the global standards change in May next year for even more precise measurement and a whole new world of innovation opportunities.”

The public celebration of the 150th anniversary of New Zealand Standard Time is being held at the National Library in Wellington this evening, 5.45 – 7.30pm. It will include presentations by Gerard Morris on the history and Dr Bruce Warrington on the science of time.


Note to editors:

  • The second is specifically defined by a number of cycles of the radiation from a particular caesium-133 transition – 9 192 631 770 to be precise.
  • To compare New Zealand time to global time we used to fly our atomic clock around the world – it literally had its own seat in first class for ‘Mr C Beam’!
  • A recent implementation of a global leap second grounded hundreds of international flights because that one second had huge flow-on effects through many systems.




Media contact

Melanie Tuala

+64 27 609 4502


About MSL

The Measurement Standards Laboratory of New Zealand (MSL) is New Zealand's national metrology institute, ensuring that New Zealand's units of measurement are consistent with the International System of Units, the SI. We employ 35 scientists, technicians and engineers, and are a business of Callaghan Innovation, based at its Gracefield hub in Lower Hutt.



Atomic Clock Cs1770 going First Class in 1981

Atomic Clock Cs1770 going First Class in 1981

Cs1770 strapped into First Class 1981

Cs1770 strapped into First Class 1981

MSL Time Lord in 1981 Bruce Lohrey

MSL Time Lord in 1981 Bruce Lohrey

Current MSL Time Lord Adam Dunford and the MSL Clocks

Current MSL Time Lord Adam Dunford and the MSL Clocks