Old West Lifestyle & Stories


At exactly noon on November 18, 1883, American and Canadian railroads begin using four continental time zones to end the confusion of dealing with thousands of local times. It shows just how powerful the railroads were.

The need for the time zones resulted from the problems the railroads had in moving passengers and freight over the thousands of miles of rail line that covered North America in the 1880s. Back then most of the towns set their clocks to the local movement of the sun. It was based on “high noon,” or the time when the sun was at its highest point in the sky.

Back when it was days between towns, the time differences didn’t matter. But as railroads shrink the travel time between cities to hours, these local times became a scheduling nightmare. Railroad timetables in major cities listed dozens of different arrival and departure times for the same train, each linked to a different local time zone.

Rather than turning to the federal governments of the United States and Canada, the railroads created a new time code system themselves. The companies divided the continent into four time zones…very close to the ones we still use today.

Most Americans and Canadians quickly embraced these new time zones, since railroads were their main link with the rest of the world. However, it was not until 1918 that Congress officially adopted the railroad time zones and put them under the supervision of the Interstate Commerce Commission.

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