The Strange History Of The 13-Month International Fixed Calendar

Updated August 29, 2019 3.9k views

The International Fixed Calendar: A 13-Month Idea That Could Change The World

The idea of a 13-month calendar - intended to replace the current 12-month Gregorian calendar used by much of the world - has been around since at least the 19th century. In 1849, French philosopher Auguste Comte devised a Positivist calendar based around 13 equal months of four weeks and 28 days each, along with one or two blank days that didn't belong to any particular month. Comte's Positivist plan also renamed months and holidays with the names of prominent historical figures.

Article ImageNear the turn of the century, an advisor for the North Eastern Railway named Moses B. Cotsworth found himself frustrated with the inconsistencies of the Gregorian months. Having 52 weeks carved up into months of irregular length made it hard for him to track the railway business by monthly earnings, and so he set out to create a more synchronized system.

Cotsworth revived and simplified Comte's old Positivist calendar, getting rid of all the cumbersome renaming and simply adding a single new month to the calendar between June and July, which he called "Sol." Like Comte's calendar, the International Fixed Calendar would consist of 13 equal months of four weeks and 28 days, and it also included an extra day at the end of each year outside of the calendar that served as New Year's Day or "Year Day." On leap years, there would be a further bonus "Leap Day" added that could either come at the end of June or double the length of Year Day. 

The International Fixed Calendar In Practice

Throughout the first two decades of the 20th century, Moses B. Cotsworth's International Fixed Calendar slowly gained traction among businessmen who saw the same appeal in its regularity, including Sir Sandford Flemming, the inventor of worldwide standard time. Cotsworth was ready to give up on his calendar after a failed attempt to get the newly formed League of Nations to consider it in 1923, but others were more prepared to take action. 

A 1927 article in The Outlook argues:

A "month" does not mean anything. A day means something. A year means something. But a month? In the vernacular, what do you mean, month?

We cannot scrap our days or our years without scrapping the sun. We could but we do not want to scrap our weeks. Religious tradition, long habit, and convenience combine to make the week a very acceptable division of time. But we can (and, if we once come to see the awkwardness and inconvenience of them, we will) scrap our months.Article Image

Still, the calendar didn't gain much momentum until George Eastman, founder of the Kodak company, became its greatest champion. By 1928, Eastman decided to run his company on the International Fixed Calendar. He even opened an office for the International Fixed Calendar League inside Kodak's headquarters. Along with several other prominent businessmen, Eastman began to push for the the League of Nations to implement Cotsworth's calendar. 

In the era of modernism, almost all of the support for the International Fixed Calendar came from forward-thinking industrialists, and also from Eastman's own employees, who typically loved working under the system. They were able to wield their influence to very nearly get the rest of the world to make the switch. Thanks to lobbying, by 1929, the League narrowed down a field of potential calendars to just the Gregorian model and the "Eastman plan." 

Eastman took his life in 1932, around the same time the march of fascism in Europe was at its height. The International Fixed Calendar movement lost its steam, and by 1937, the International Fixed Calendar League closed its doors. The League of Nations followed soon after, shuttering in 1946.

Only Eastman's Kodak legacy kept the fight for the 13-month cycle alive. Kodak ran on the International Fixed Calendar until 1989 before finally making the switch back to the system used by the rest of the business world. 

Article ImageThe Pros

The regularity of the International Fixed Calendar has always been the basis of its appeal. Every year has 13 months and 52 weeks. Every month has four weeks and 28 days. There would be no more strangely-stunted months like February mucking up the flow of time.

Perhaps most exciting of all is the fact dates would always fall on the same day of the week no matter which month they were in, making the calendar a truly perennial system. If someone wanted to make plans for the 17th, they'd know that it was going to fall on a Tuesday no matter what month or year it was. It would be easier to keep track of one's schedule both as an individual and on a more macro scale. 

Institutions could schedule around fixed points, with school, for example, starting on the same date each and every year. Conferences, conventions, and festivals would always happen on the same day of the month instead of shifting. Even historically irregular holidays like Thanksgiving would gain a permanent date on the calendar, though the same principle of the plan creates some complications when it comes to certain religious holy days.

Year Day and Leap Day also have their benefits. Having a New Year's Day celebration that truly fell outside of the calendar - literally a bonus day each year for everyone to enjoy - would make for a worldwide holiday unlike any other. Then every four years, the fun would be doubled with either a Leap Day in the middle of the year or a 48-hour Year Day. 

On an individual basis, the 13-month cycle also has many perceived benefits for things like budgeting and cash flow. Everyone could count on getting paid twice a month every month, which would greatly reduce stress on those who pay their bills on a paycheck-to-paycheck basis. The International Fixed Calendar also follows the cycle of the moon more closely than the Gregorian calendar, which some have argued could be of benefit to a woman's monthly cycle. 

Statisticians also like the idea of the International Fixed Calendar because it would make the intricacies of the world more accurate to track on a month-by-month basis. Article Image

The Cons

Though George Eastman sought the consent of some local religious leaders before committing himself to the International Fixed Calendar, its impact on holy days is an important argument against the world switching to the 13-month system. While already irregular holidays like Easter would now have fixed dates, others would find themselves always stuck on awkward days of the week. 

The Christian faith would be heavily impacted by the external nature of New Year's Day under the International Fixed Calendar, as the first Sunday in January would not be exactly a week after the last Sunday in December, thus interrupting the practice of worshipping every seven days. 

In America, the specific question of Independence Day became a key argument against the calendar. The Outlook hypothesized: 

If, for instance, we wish to keep Independence Day in July, then it will cease to be the fourth of July but become the second of July. If, however, we wish to keep it on virtually the same day of the year. Independence Day will fall into the new month. As July 4 will become Sol 17 and thus fall on Tuesday, Independence Day will then be shifted one day earlier and become Sol 16.

Other holidays, like Memorial Day, would either have to move or be held in the middle of the week every year. There's also the tradition of celebrating the day one is born, under the International Fixed Calendar, some unfortunate individuals' birthdays would always fall on a Monday, while others get a Saturday birthday bash year after year.

Holidays aside, there are also serious quandaries when it comes to the translation of the modern business world to the International Fixed Calendar. Most business today is conducted on a quarterly basis, and a 13-month system makes for awkward quartering. The entire structure of every company and corporation in the world's business models would have to change overnight in order to accommodate the International Fixed Calendar, and ultimately, that's the biggest reason it is no longer considered a legitimate option.