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Why we split 1 hour into 60 minutes? Isn’t it easier to count in 10s than in 12s?

Our way of splitting up the day into 24 hours, 1 hour into 60 minutes and one minute into 60 seconds is far from ideal.

The concept comes from the ancient Egyptians who divided daytime into 10 hours and added a twilight hour at either end of the daytime.

Nighttime was divided into 12 hours based on the stars. The Egyptians had a system of 36 star groups called ‘decans’ – intervals of 40 minutes.

As a result of these two systems, the length of the daytime and nighttime hours were unequal and varied with the seasons. In summer, the length on an “hour” in daytime was longer than in nighttime, and this reversed in winter.

The Babylonians split hours and minutes equally into 60

It was the Babylonians that came up with the notion of dividing hours and minutes equally into 60. This same culture came up with the idea that a circle is divided into 360 degrees. We still use both concepts today but we didn’t retain their idea to divide the day into 360 equal parts called “ush”. Each ush equalled four minutes of our standard time today.

The Ancient Chinese split the day into 12 double hours

The Ancient Chinese divided the day into 12 double hours. But they also had a separate system which divided a day into 100 equal parts. But these two systems didn’t work well together and eventually the day was reduced from 100 to 96 Ke or marks.

The Internet Time

An attempt was made to make time metric in 1998 when Swiss watch company Swatch introduced decimal Internet Time. This divided the day into 1000 ‘beats’ with each beat equal to 1 minute 26.4 seconds. @250 signifies six hours.

However, this Internet Time has not caught on, given the immense expense and difficulty switching over to such a system for all countries in the world. So until that is figured out, we will still tell time in multiples and divisions of 12.

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