November 18 – Time Zone Day

Posted on November 18, 2015

Arranging a time system by the position of the sun makes a whole lot of sense. The sun rises in the morning, is overhead at noon, and sets in the evening. Whatever your time system is, you get used to those morning-noon-evening times (for example, sunrises around 7:00 a.m., noon at 12:00 p.m., and sunsets around 7:00 p.m.).

But of course, in the modern world we often talk to, listen to, or even play games with people who live far away—even halfway around the world! The further away from home, the more radically different the position of the sun—and when you are talking about halfway around the world, we are talking about day here being night there, and vice versa.

Our communications have gone pretty much instant and global. But our transportation is pretty quick, in the modern world, as well. We often drive and fly long distances—and we can then see firsthand the local-time-by-sun being different in different places. If you time it just right, you can take off in a plane at 7:00 a.m. and fly a long distance and then land at 7:00 a.m. on the same day! One time my family chased a sunset—it seemed to linger above the horizon for a long time as we streaked westward.

When the world was just starting the communication and transportation revolution, in the second half of the 1800s, with the advent of telegraphs and telephones and continent-straddling railroads, people for the first time began to run into problems dealing with all the different local times people were living by.

According to Time and Date, every city in the U.S. used a different time standard. Along the route of the various railroad tracks, there were more than 300 different sun times to choose from as they announced their schedules of arrivals and departures.

That made the railroad schedule pretty tricky!

Railroad managers established time zones, lumping together nearby sun times. But what they set up were 100 railroad time zones! Still a bit of a handful!

Finally, on this date in 1883, railroad managers decided to make a much more streamlined schedule: just four standard time zones for the continental United States and Canada.

Britain had already adopted a standard time system for all of England, Scotland, and Wales, and people of both Britain and the U.S. urged the rest of the world to adopt time zones. Perhaps surprisingly, it only took a year to obtain an international standard time system.

Check out this zoomable world time zones map. Note that there are some “and-a-half” time zones, and there are a lot of wavery-quavery bits in the lines between time zones.  There are also some time zones that have very little land mass in the zones!

Also on this date:

Pushkar Camel Fair 11/18 to 11/25, 2015

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