Home » Government » Bending time to meet the needs of a modern railroad system. Creating Standard Time.

Bending time to meet the needs of a modern railroad system. Creating Standard Time.

It’s time to turn the clocks back for many, but not for us here in Arizona. And while people still grumble about the inconvenience, the reason behind Standard Time solved a very big problem when it was first adopted nearly 150 years ago.

The year was 1883 and railroads were quickly becoming the darling of American life, moving people and freight over long distances at a fraction of the time it had taken just a decade earlier. This created an unique problem which had not plagued slower forms of transportation – scheduling time.

The issue was outlined in an 1883 newspaper article:

“…A train leaving Chicago at noon meant it was 12:31 in Pittsburgh; 12:24 in Cleveland; 12:09 in Louisville.”

“…The Union Pacific Railroad operated its trains by at least six different time standards and the Chicago Tribune listed 27 local times in Michigan alone. “

Imagine the challenge this presented to every train dispatcher, signal towner operator, conductor, locomotive engineer and switchman whose job it was to keep the trains running on time, the article asked readers.

A traveler going from Maine to California, if anxious to have correct railroad time, was obliged to change his watch some twenty times during the journey!”

Despite a universal grumbling about this problem of ‘time’ when traveling east to west, nothing was done until 1883 when the railroads proposed a plan which involved five time zones:

Intercolonial Time in the eastern provinces of Canada and four time zones in the United States; eastern, central, mountain and pacific.

While this made great sense to those who were attempting to run a modern railroad, it made many citizens nervous in 1883.

Many felt they were being robbed of daylight or being forced to reckon time which was ‘contrary to nature.’

Before and After the adoption of Standard Time on November 18,1883
Before and After the adoption of Standard Time on November 18,1883

One newspaper noted that it while it wouldn’t make much difference to those in the West, it might to the man who was about to be hanged.

Even clergy protested the change and in Bangor, Maine they tried to have the church bells stopped from ringing on Standard Time, arguing that no man had the right to change the immutable laws of God.

But change they did.

 

On November 18, 1883 the federal government fully cooperated with the proposal to put the country on standard time, although it would take another 35 years before they actually passed the Standard Time Act.

 

 

 

 

 

About Linda Gross

Linda Gross
Writer, photographer. Passionate foodie, lover of good books and storytelling. Lives in Globe. Plays in the historic district. Travels when possible.

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