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Philibert Louis Debucourt, Detail from "Calendrier républicain" // Public Domain
Philibert Louis Debucourt, Detail from "Calendrier républicain" // Public Domain

211 Years Ago Today, the French Abandoned Their Decimal Calendar

Philibert Louis Debucourt, Detail from "Calendrier républicain" // Public Domain
Philibert Louis Debucourt, Detail from "Calendrier républicain" // Public Domain

In 1793, the French switched to French Revolutionary Time, creating a decimal system of time. A day had 10 hours, 100 minutes per hour, and 100 seconds per minute. The system was elegant, doing away with the complex math required for time calculations under a 24 hour/60 minute/60 second system. But it also brought huge headaches.

French Revolutionary Time came alongside the French Republican Calendar, a further attempt to rationalize time. Months were divided into three 10-day weeks, and there were 12 months. The leftover days needed to add up to 365 or 366 for the year were tacked onto the end of the year as holidays. This was a bit inelegant (days and years being hard to divide cleanly by 10), but at least it was less confusing than trying to sort out what time "noon" was (it was 5 o'clock).

French Revolutionary Time only lasted 17 months. By April 7, 1795 (in the Gregorian calendar), the time system became optional. Decimal clocks and decimal/standard hybrid clocks continued to be used for years, but for practicality, France returned to the same system of time as its neighbors.

The French Republican Calendar lasted far longer. It began in late 1793 and ran all the way through the end of 1805 (again in the Gregorian reckoning). On December 31, 1805, the French government chucked the system—in the year XIV, by Republican reckoning. This was due, of course, to the reign of Napoléon Bonaparte as Emperor. (Incidentally, his coronation occurred on 11 Frimaire, Year XIII of the French Republican Calendar—also known as 2 December, 1804. It took him more than a year to roll back the revolutionary calendar.) In any case, January 1, 1806 rolled around using the Gregorian calendar and the rest is history.

Of course, all this calendar-nerd stuff leads to the fact that you could still choose to use the French Republican Calendar. Indeed, Wikipedia will tell you the current day and year using the system, although you'll want to read up on the exquisite problems related to leap years (also helpfully detailed on Wikipedia).

For a bit more on decimal time (including several modern variants), check out our article Decimal Time: How the French Made a 10-Hour Day.

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Why Was February Chosen for Black History Month?
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iStock

Every February since 1976, the United States has celebrated the achievements of African-Americans during Black History Month. The month-long celebration puts those accomplishments and milestones in focus via the media and in classrooms.

But why February? Was that part of the calendar chosen for any specific purpose?

It was. Black History Month began as “Negro History Week,” a label applied by historian Carter G. Woodson in 1926. Woodson was bothered by the fact that many textbooks and other historical reviews minimized or ignored the contributions of black figures. Along with his Association for the Study of Negro Life and History—later the Association for the Study of African American Life and History—Woodson earmarked the second week in February to raise awareness of these stories.

Woodson chose that week specifically because it covered the birthdays of Frederick Douglass (February 14) and Abraham Lincoln (February 12). The ensuing publicity led many mayors and college campuses to recognize the week; through the years, the groundswell of support allowed the occasion to stretch throughout the entire month.

In 1976, President Gerald Ford made Black History Month official, saying that he was urging everyone to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”

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DodeCal
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History
12-Sided Calendar Fits the Whole Year Onto a Simple Desk Ornament
DodeCal
DodeCal

From underwater dog photography to morbid anatomy, there’s a calendar theme out there to suit every taste. If you’re feeling overwhelmed with calendar options as the new year approaches, consider a simpler choice for 2017. The DodeCal fits all 365 days of the year into a wooden package.

The finished product may look simplistic, but the work required to make it a reality was anything but. Ric Bell, designer and head of the London studio Post, knew he wanted to engrave a calendar onto a 12-sided shape, but dodecahedrons usually consist of 12 equal pentagons. To avoid the awkwardness of printing a square calendar on a five-sided plane, he decided to go with a rhombic-dodecahedron instead.

Carving a 3D shape with 12 four-sided diamond faces was exceedingly tricky. He enlisted the help of a toy maker and a furniture maker with a degree in math to get the final design just right: The result is one visually striking paperweight.

After retailing for about $96, the first 100 DodeCals quickly sold out. Early holiday shoppers can sign up online to be included on the preorder list for the calendar’s second edition.

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