Saturday, June 6, 2020

The History of Time Zones

Photo: David Mak/Pixabay
Travel for many has been put on hold, but when you took a train or grabbed an airplane flight, you probably didn’t give much thought to the time zones involved. In the back of your head, you may have realized you’d need to change your watch upon arrival, but any further considerations weren’t necessary.

Not so in late 19th century America.

Prior to the establishment of standard time zones in 1883, there were one hundred and forty-four local times in North America. Probably not a huge issue when travel took weeks or days rather than hours, but with the rise of the railroads, whose tracks eventually spanned the continent, the standardization of time was essential for efficient operation.

Sandford Fleming: courtesy
Enter Sir Sandford Fleming, a Scottish-born engineer who emigrated to Canada in 1845 as a 17-year-old. He worked as a surveyor for a while then became a railway engineer for the Canadian Pacific Railway. At the age of twenty-one, he founded the Royal Canadian Institute as an organization for engineers, surveyors, and architects. Later the Institute would focus on the advancement of science in general.

In 1878, he proposed the system of worldwide time zones that are used today. Proclaimed a brilliant solution to a serious problem, his recommendation was to divide the world into twenty-four time zones, each spaced fifteen degrees of longitude apart, aligning with the earth’s rotation of once every twenty-four hours.

Photo: Alejandro Guerrero/Pixabay
The railroad companies began to use Fleming’s time zones on November 18, 1883. An International Prime Meridian Conference was held in Washington, DC to select the prime meridian (e.g. where to start) and standardize time. The longitude of Greenwich, England was selected as zero degrees/the Prime Meridian, and the twenty-four times zones established. However, not all countries switched to the new system immediately.

By 1895, most U.S. states adhered to the Pacific, Mountain, Central, and Eastern times zones, Congress didn’t make use of the time zones mandatory until the Standard Time Act of 1918.

What time zone are you in?


The Widow & The War Correspondent:
Barely married before she’s widowed after Pearl Harbor, journalist Cora Strealer travels to England where she’s assigned to work with United Press’s top reporter who thinks the last place for a woman is on the front lines. Can she change his opinion before D-Day? Will she have to choose her job over her heart?

Journalist Van Toppel deserves his pick of assignments, which is why he can’t determine the bureau chief’s motive for saddling him with a cub reporter. Unfortunately, the beautiful rookie is no puff piece. Can he get her off his beat without making headlines…or losing his heart?

Linda Shenton Matchett writes about ordinary people who did extraordinary things in days gone by. A volunteer docent and archivist for the Wright Museum of WWII, Linda is also a trustee for her local public library. She is a native of Baltimore, Maryland and was born a stone's throw from Fort McHenry. Linda has lived in historic places all her life, and is now located in central New Hampshire where her favorite activities include exploring historic sites and immersing herself in the imaginary worlds created by other authors. Connect with her at, or on Facebook, Pinterest, or Twitter.


  1. I'm in EST. Along a similar line, I'm always interested in whether the use of Daylight Savings Time will ever be discontinued. There sure are lots of grumblings every year about switching the clocks. But perhaps that's a different blog topic for you!!

  2. Hi Connie! I'm in the EST too. And I've got mixed feelings about Daylight Savings time, but as you say, a great topic for another blog. :-)