Time Zones Are Created

On November 18, 1883, four standard time zones for the continental U.S.A. were introduced at the instigation of the railroads.

At noon on this day the U.S. Naval Observatory changed its telegraphic signals to correspond to the change. Until the invention of the railway, it took such a long time to get from one place to another that local "sun time" could be used. When traveling to the east or to the west, a person would have to change his or her watch by one minute every twelve miles.

When people began traveling by train, sometimes hundreds of miles in a day, the calculation of time became a serious problem. Operators of the new railroad lines realized that a new time plan was needed in order to offer a uniform train schedule for departures and arrivals.

Since every city was using a different time standard, there were over 300 local sun times to choose from. The railroad managers tried to address the problem by establishing 100 railroad time zones, but this was only a partial solution to the problem.

Charles F. Dowd proposed a system of one-hour standard time zones for American railroads about 1863, although he published nothing on the matter at that time and did not consult railroad officials until 1869. In 1870, he proposed four ideal time zones (having north–south borders), the first centered on Washington, D.C., but by 1872 the first was centered 75°W of Greenwich, with geographic borders (for example, sections of the Appalachian Mountains). Dowd's system was never accepted by American railroads. Instead, U.S. and Canadian railroads implemented a version proposed by William F. Allen, the editor of the Traveler's Official Railway Guide. The borders of its time zones ran through railroad stations, often in major cities. For example, the border between its Eastern and Central time zones ran through Detroit, Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Atlanta, and Charleston. It was inaugurated on Sunday, November 18, 1883, also called "The Day of Two Noons", when each railroad station clock was reset as standard-time noon was reached within each time zone. The zones were named Intercolonial, Eastern, Central, Mountain, and Pacific. Within one year, 85% of all cities with populations over 10,000, about 200 cities, were using standard time. A notable exception was Detroit (which is about half-way between the meridians of eastern time and central time), which kept local time until 1900, then tried Central Standard Time, local mean time, and Eastern Standard Time before a May 1915 ordinance settled on EST and was ratified by popular vote in August 1916. The confusion of times came to an end when Standard zone time was formally adopted by the U.S. Congress on March 19, 1918 in the Standard Time Act.