Ian R. Bartky, 73; Chemist Became Expert on Time

A question from Congress ignited Ian Bartky's interest in horology.
A question from Congress ignited Ian Bartky's interest in horology. (Family Photo - Family Photo)
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By Patricia Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 24, 2007

Ian R. Bartky, 73, a chemist at the old National Bureau of Standards who became a well-known researcher of time, died of lung cancer Dec. 18 at Washington Hospital Center. He lived in Bethesda for 46 years.

Dr. Bartky's book "Selling the True Time: Nineteenth-Century Timekeeping in America" (2000) is considered the first comprehensive history of timekeeping in the nation. He researched and wrote about the lack of standardization before the late 1800s and how the railroads propelled the adoption of five time zones across the country.

He became interested in the issue during the oil embargo of 1973 and 1974, when Congress sought a way to cut energy costs. Dr. Bartky was spending a fellowship year on Capitol Hill, and a House commerce committee asked him to determine whether daylight saving time should be extended into winter.

He concluded that the proposal would not save much energy, but the study ignited an interest in horology, the science of measuring time.

In 2007, he published a second book, "One Time Fits All: The Campaigns for Global Uniformity," about the public aspects of timekeeping.

Born in Chicago, Dr. Bartky graduated from the Illinois Institute of Technology, and in 1962 he received a doctoral degree in physical chemistry from the University of California at Berkeley.

He began working for the Bureau of Standards, now the National Institute of Standards and Technology, in 1961. He worked primarily in laboratory research with fellowships from Stanford University and the Department of Commerce. He was managing editor for the bureau's first National Climate Program Plan. Dr. Bartky finished his government career with oversight of several areas in the Army's research and development laboratories.

After retiring in 1992, he worked on his books, supported by awards and grants from the National Science Foundation and the trustees of the Dudley Observatory in New York. In 2003, he had a Caird Short-Term Research Fellowship at the National Maritime Museum of the Royal Observatory at Greenwich, England.

Dr. Bartky was a member of the American Chemical Society, Sigma Xi, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Society for the History of Technology and the Historical Astronomy Division of the American Astronomical Society.

Survivors include his wife of 47 years, Elizabeth Hodgins Bartky of Bethesda; two children, David J. Bartky of Bethesda and Anne B. Goldberg of Silver Spring; and a brother.

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