Modern Time Zones Established

Viennese Brass "Tree of Life" Mantel Clock (LEO Design)

On this day in 1918, Congress established U.S. time zones and Daylight Savings Time.

In the Nineteenth Century, once clocks had become widespread, every city, town, or village would keep its own time—much as it always had—based roughly on the sun’s passing overhead.  Usually a town hall or church would establish the time and everyone else would set their clocks to match.  Hourly bells would ring, keeping everyone up-to-date.  Under this method, every town was its own time zone—Boston and New York City would observe “high noon” eight minutes apart.

As trains began to link these cities, towns, and villages, the train companies themselves established a patchwork of time zones which allowed them to keep published time schedules.  People (in areas with train service) sometimes referred to it as “Railway Time.”

While 1918 may seem rather late in American history for such an advancement, prior to that, people did not travel as much as they do today.  Living in a small village, it didn’t really matter if one’s time was synchronized to someone else’s—unless you shared commercial or social interactions.

But, as the Twentieth Century progressed—with its rapid technological advancements—the need for people to interact “outside of their village” increased and a simplified scheme of time zones helped them to do it.  Congress’s actions made our country just a little smaller.

The clock above, from turn-of-the-century Secessionist Vienna, pre-dates the U.S. time zones by ten or fifteen years.  Click on the photo to learn more about it.


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