The Zoning of America: Changes In Attitude, Changes in Longitude

Daniel Sibo of Laingsburg, Mich., asks: "The boundary of the Eastern and Central times zones has been moved. When and why did this happen?"

ONCE upon a time, whenever the sun was directly overhead, it was noon in every town. Consequently, when it was noon in Washington, it was 12:08 p.m. in Philadelphia, 12:12 p.m. in New York, 12:24 p.m. in Boston, and so on.

This system was manageable when travel was slow. Trouble started after railroads were built. The unsystematic setting of local times created problems in printed schedules. Also, travelers had to constantly reset their watches.

On November 18, 1883, the railroads of the US and Canada standardized time into four zones: Eastern, Central, Mountain, and Pacific.

The next year, a worldwide system was put in place, dividing the entire world into 24 time zones, each 15 degrees of longitude apart, with the British Royal Observatory at Greenwich, England, as the point of measurement.

Since the first zoning, boundaries have been redrawn many times. For instance, in 1941, the Eastern and Central time zones that divided Georgia were moved, putting the state entirely in the Eastern zone. Georgia requested the adjustment for reasons of commerce and convenience, and the Interstate Commerce Commission approved the change after hearings.

Since the Uniform Time Act of 1966, adjustments are handled by the US Transportation Department.

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