July 06, 2004

Creation of Time Zones

I came across this little snippet, about how the US time zones came to be created, in the NY Times this morning in an article about timekeeping in Grand Central Station and wanted to share it. I thought it was fascinating and I had never given it any thought before:

Indeed, timekeeping, as it is known today, was essentially invented out of necessity in the late 1800's by a collection of railroads, including the New York Central, a predecessor of Metro-North. Before the railroads, time was a local matter, set in each town according to the sun. Therefore, noon in Cincinnati, for example, would be slightly different from noon in Cleveland. But this was obviously a problem for railroads. Coordination of traffic on the tracks, as well as schedules for picking up passengers, depended on a standardized time system.

"A train could leave Syracuse at 12 o'clock and come into Utica, and it would still be 12 o'clock," said Pierce Haviland, a Metro-North employee who is also a railroad historian. "That wasn't working."

At first, railroad managers set up 100 different railroad time zones, but that proved too complicated. Finally, on Nov. 18, 1883, four standard time zones - Eastern, Central, Mountain and Pacific - were adopted by the railroads. At noon on that day, the time was transmitted by telegraph from the United States Naval Observatory in Washington to all the railroads in the United States and Canada. Twice a day thereafter, railroad clocks were resynchronized with the Naval Observatory's clock.

However, it was not until 1918, when Congress passed the Standard Time Act, that the railroads' time zones became the standard for everyone in the United States.

Posted by Random Penseur at July 6, 2004 09:20 AM
Post a comment

Remember personal info?