On April 30, 1997, at exactly 12:11 pm, London's iconic Big Ben clock stops ticking. For 54 minutes, the most famous clock in the world failed to keep time.
Completed in 1859, Big Ben has a long history of technical issues. The first bell cast for the tower cracked before it could be installed, and the second bell also developed a crack shortly after installation, resulting in silence from the tower until 1862. The bells stopped ringing again during World War I, and the tower was not illuminated at night for the duration of World War II, when most of London was kept dark to make German bombing raids more difficult. Despite the heavy damage that the Blitz inflicted on London, however, the clock stayed within a second and a half of GMT for the duration of the war.
Since then, both extreme heat and the buildup of snow have caused Big Ben to stop ticking. In 1962, snow delayed the bells, causing the capital of Britain to ring in the new year ten minutes later than the rest of the country. The April 1997 stoppage occurred the day before that year's general election, but the malfunction was probably not a factor in the voting, which Tony Blair's "New Labour" won in a landslide over incumbent Prime Minister John Major. Big Ben stopped again in May of 2005, on one of the hottest May days ever recorded in London.
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