Time ball on Telegraph Hill circa 1853

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I have found references to a time ball service on Telegraph Hill that was underway in 1853. This was a way for ship captains to calibrate their chronometers. I've found a bit of information in Myrick's book about the history of Telegraph Hill, but haven't been able to locate anything more. The bibliograph lists an unpublished manuscript called "Time Balls" which I have been unable to locate. Any of you folks know anything more about this?

-- dorothy leland (leland@dcn.davis.ca.us), December 03, 1997


Arrivals were so important that a ball was set on top of the City Observatory atop Telegraph Hill to give notice to arrival to all in the City. In researching a book I'm working on, I found the following in the Daily Alta California, May 1852 (on microfiche in the Periodicals Room of the SF Public Library, Main Branch):

"Special Notice.  Masters of vessels are hereby informed that every day, after the 20th of May (Sundays excepted,) a BALL, discernible from all parts of the harbor, will be dropped from the top of the signal-pole, Telegraph Hill, at mean noon nearly. The reason for not indicating exact time is obvious. The master of each vessel arriving will obtain, on application at the office of the City Observatory, a blank form, in which he will require to note the time of the Balls descent by his chronometers. When ready for sea, the rates and errors will be made out from this form. This method is intended to be used by those who are unwilling to risk their chronometers on shore; but greater accuracy can be ensured, when they are deposited with us; while valuables placed in our fire-proof vault, within a brick building, are perfectly secure from loss or injury by fire. The following testimonial is from Captains who have frequently tried the accuracy of our rates: "I certify that the rates of our chronometers, as ascertained by Messrs. Barrett & Sherwood, City Observatory, we have found on trial to be invariable correct, and have the fullest confidence in their abilities as chronometer makers. Capt. W. Hudson, steamer Republic. Thomas A. Budd, U.S.N. Steamer California. James Titherington, master barque Amelia. Richard Nosworthy, master brig Gilmore. A.D. Bottomley, master barque Amelia. John Gillen, master schooner, Wm. Allen. J.J. Jackson, master barque Louisiana. We can also refer to  Godeffroy, Sillem & Co., Capt. G. Simpton, Harb. Mast. Dewitt & Harrrison, Jos. De Puisaye, Green Agent B.H. Aikin, H.B.M. Consul, for Lloyds N.B.  B. & S. set up the first Transit Instrument and Astronomical Clock ever brought to the shores of the North Pacific; and besides rating the chronometers of most of the ocean steamers, have supplied chronometers used by the U.S. Coast Survey in ascertaining the longitude of headlands along this coast. The Ball will appear for about one minute and drop within five seconds of the mean noon.

BARRETT & SHERWOOD, City Observatory, Clay Street near Montgomery

May 15. * **

Also, Amazon.com has the ability to do vast on-line searches for obscure books. They've found a couple of out-of-print versions for me. They're often quite expensive, though.

-- Dianne Levy (dalsf@pacbell.net), May 30, 1998.

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