From Iceland — Ask An Historian: Why Is Iceland On Greenwich Mean Time?

Ask An Historian: Why Is Iceland On Greenwich Mean Time?

Published September 11, 2020

Ask An Historian: Why Is Iceland On Greenwich Mean Time?
Andie Sophia Fontaine
Photo by
Ásgeir Ágeirsson

Earlier this month, the Prime Minister’s office decided that, despite popular support and scientific health data supporting the move, Iceland would not be moving from GMT to GMT-1. Iceland does indeed have a peculiar placement on the time zone map, which naturally raised the question: what are we doing in the GMT?

We asked historian Stefán Pálsson for answers:

“Around 1900, municipalities around Iceland were allowed to determine for themselves what time it was. In theory this meant that the time in Reykjavík could be completely different from the time in Seyðisfjörður. This didn’t make much difference, as there was little need for a precise, standardised clock at the time. Landsíminn, the national telegraph company, was founded in 1906 and for the first time, standardised time was needed. The following year, a law was passed putting Iceland in GMT-1.

“Later, summertime was introduced, with Icelanders setting their clocks one hour forward in the spring and one hour back in the autumn. Changing the clocks was
unpopular, and in 1968 it was decided to do away with summer time and have one set time — but should Iceland be placed in GMT-1, as the position of the country on the planet would dictate, or in GMT 0?

“Specialists at the University of Iceland came to the conclusion thatGMT 0 would be a better choice, as then Iceland would be in sync with Europe. The winter mornings would certainly be darker, but on the plus side, the later part of the day would bebrighter. Parliament decided to follow this recommendation.”

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