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, United States (USA) (American Colonies) - 1883 - November 18 – U.S. and Canadian railroads institute 5 standard continental time zones, ending the confusion of thousands of local times.


Exactly at noon on Sunday, as has been announced, the new system of uniform time will be put into effect by the leading railroad companies; and, instead of fifty different standards, there will be four corresponding to the four meridians adopted by the Chicago convention of railroad men. There is, indeed, a fifth standard meridian adopted, but, as it passes near St. Johns, New Brunswick, we are not concerned with it in the United States.

The five meridians are computed west from Greenwich, and calculations from the meridian of Washington will be abolished. The longitudinal belts between the meridians are fifteen degrees wide, and each is divided by a meridian passing through the middle and standard time within the limits of each belt is to be reckoned from noon on the central meridian. The four central meridians in the United States are one hour apart in time, and four hours cover all the differences in time. By the new arrangement each zone will have the same standard, and clocks and watches within that belt, as, for instance, between the seventy-fifth meridian of west longitude and the ninetieth, will be set to conform to the central meridianal standard. Thus, railroad trains, which are run now by a number of variant standards of time, will be run by the standard time of the zone they traverse. The time is determined by the most accurate transit instruments which can be obtained. The instrument must be mounted firmly in the meridian, and fine spider lines must be set in the focus, perpendicular to the motion of the stars. When the telescope is set upon a star, the earth's diurnal revolution gives an apparent motion to the star across the field, and the observation of its transit, with the correction of instrumental errors, enables the observer to correct clock errors. The instruments used, are usually, in well equipped observatories, the transit instrument, the chronograph, which automatically registers clock beats and observations of star transits by electricity, and the standard clock, whose errors are continually corrected by the observations.

At the meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, held in 1880, the subject of standard time, not only for railroads, but for the whole population, was discussed. The clocks and watches in each zone could be regulated at wholesale by sending out the observatory clock beats to every telegraph station and by time signals to every individual within seeing distance of a railroad. A proposition has been made to adopt the Italian clock face, with its hours numbered from one to twenty-four, instead of having A.M. and P.M., according to the present system of numbering from one to twelve. This would simplify matters very much and prevent mistakes, but it would also take some time for people to get accustomed to the change.

Every city ought to have an electric time ball as a guide to the setting of watches and clocks of the whole community. A ball attached to a flagstaff placed in a conspicuous position, is dropped by means of electricity at noon sharp each day. The ball is hoisted to the top of the staff at five minutes before 12 o'clock, and held in place by a rope attached to an arm and supported by an armature of a relay on a local circuit, which can be closed by the relay of the main office. When the main circuit is closed at noon the ball slides down the staff, the moment it moves being exactly noon. This time ball would keep every time piece in Louisville straight. In the meantime, it is easy to make all clocks and watches conform to the railroad time as far as their propinquity to the new time-centers will permit. Greenwich time has been the standard in England, Scotland and Wales since 1848 for railroads and the public generally. The adoption of the new railway standard in this country can be accomplished without much difficulty by all communities; otherwise there will be a misunderstanding about local and standard time which will continue to befog travelers.

The Courier-Journal
Louisville, Kentucky
November 16, 1883

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