When Railroads Changed History: Standard Time

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Time keeping is something that has been done throughout the centuries.  It was done using a sundial held towards the sun.  However, without the modern communications, time would be different in every location.  It would be 3:00pm in Buffalo, New York and 4:30pm in Jacksonville, Florida, but it is the exact same time.  In the 1700’s, this was not a problem, but in the 2010’s, this would be a very big problem.  Imagine seeing the Seattle Seahawks play the Arizona Cardinals in Seattle at 4:00pm.  It starts at 4:00pm in Seattle, but in Portland, Oregon, it is 4:00pm, and it is halftime in Seattle.  Yes, this is big a problem.  With the railroad coming on the scene, this was also a problem as different towns kept different times.

In 1883, the railroads in the United States and Canada began what was known as ‘Railroad Standard Time’ which split the nations into Time Zones.  This allowed the towns serviced by the railroads at the time specified by the zone itself.  It was later referred to as simply ‘Standard Time’, and the Standard Time Act was enacted by Congress on March 19, 1918.  Now time zones are around the world, and it was all made possible by the railroad.

The next time you look at your watch or the clock on your I-phone, remember that it was the railroad that made sure that 3:00pm at the post office is also 3:00pm at the bar across the street.

 

 

*-The clocks the photograph are part of an exhibit at the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Museum in Baltimore, Maryland.  You can learn more about the museum at http://www.borail.org.

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