November 18, 1883: Railroads Create the First Time Zones
On this day in 1883, American and Canadian railroads began using four continental time zones. This stemmed from schedulers’ confusion transporting passengers across thousands of local times. Most towns in the United States had their own local times based on “high noon” when the sun reached its highest point in the sky.
The railroad companies created the new time coding system without assistance from the federal government. Most Americans and Canadians embraced the time zones since railroads were the primary link between the two countries. Congress did not officially adopt the time zones until 1918 under the Interstate Commerce Commission.
Check out American Experience’s “Streamliners” timeline of significant events related to the development of American railroads.
Photo: “Westward the Course of Empire Takes Its Way” circa 1868 (Currier & Ives./Library of Congress).