How, When, and Why Were Time Zones Created?

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Answer by Brian Roemmele, Alchemist & Metaphysician

How The Railroad Changed Time

Prior to 12 noon, November 18th, 1883, time was usually determined locally. With the majority of areas using a Solar position references with the Apparent Solar Time techniques. Each town had its own defacto reference. The clock maintained on a church steeple, city hall or by a jeweler, in a window or outside pedestal. There simply was no universal time standard and no clearly defined time zones from town to town and from state to state.

The practical concept of time meridians (time zones) was first credited to Dr. William Hyde Wollaston in the late 1700s. It was later popularized by Abraham Follett Osler in the late 1800s in Britain. This led to the formation of the Greewich Observatory Mean Time (GMT) standard with ship and rail chronometers set to the known GMT standard.

The first US national push for a universal time standard and time zones was proposed by William Lambert, who in 1809 presented a report to Congress for the establishment of time zones. The proposal was not accepted, nor were revised versions by Charles Dowd in 1870 and 1872.

The expansion of the railroads pushing to the Pacific ocean was the largest motivation for a universal time standard and time zones. To maintain a fairly accurate railroad schedule, a time standard was absolutely necessary. There were also major safety issues as many trains would share a single track and thus exact time was critical. A number of notable train crashes could have been averted if a better time system was adopted on a nationwide basis. It was in this spirt that on November 18, 1883 at high noon, all the major railroads set their clocks to a universal time standard and recognized the 5 railroad time zones.

Mo Town's, Mo Time

A notable exception was Detroit, they used a local time basis until 1900, when the City Council decreed that clocks should be put back 28 minutes to Central Standard Time. About half the city businesses obeyed, while many individuals refused. Some saw exact time "dehumanizing" and used this as a reason to rebel. The decision was rescinded and the city reverted to solar time. After many railroad companies refused to use Detroit time, the city voted in 1905 to follow Central Standard Time.

By March 19, 1918, in the US Congress passed the Standard Time Act. In 1966 the Department of Transportation was formed and took over the function of time zones setting and modifications in the US. The National Institute of Standards And Technology keeps the universal time standard for the US.

Standard Time Changed The Human Pace

It is hard to comprehend the world not on a universal time standard today. Certainly commerce as we know it, demanded it. But it is interesting that each little town kept its own time and in some very meaningful way, kept its own pace. The industrial revolution certainly accelerated the pace.

By having an exact time standard humans added a very real and meaningful layer of stress to our lives that still impacts all of us today. The lack of an exact time standard allowed for far more flexibility in just about ever aspect of everyone's life. A vast majority of people were perfectly comfortable dividing the day in 3 or 4 parts. What a different world it was, just a little more than 100 years ago.

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