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This Day in History: Railroad companies create the first time zones

On this day in 1883, railroad companies create the first time zones. Yes, you heard that right. Private individuals saw a problem and solved it without involving the federal government.

What a wonderfully American “do it yourself” mindset! Such determination and perseverance is what made our country great.

Before time zones, Americans generally relied upon the local time in their communities. That local time was based upon the movement of the sun in the sky, so the time could vary from city to city. Cities would usually designate one clock in the area—perhaps at a certain church or business—as the official clock for the community. This system caused a lot of headaches for the railroads. Imagine if you are a train trying to keep a schedule as you cross the continent, but the time varies at each stop. It was difficult, to say the least.

The railroads were not the first to consider a system of standardized time. Astronomers had long advocated for such a system, and the time zones eventually set up by the railroads relied heavily on their work. Once the railroads acted, local governments across the country quickly supported the idea and adopted it with their own ordinances. Yep, local governments—not the federal government—assisted this effort by private companies. Because it really is not necessary to involve the federal government most of the time, as our ancestors knew.

The federal government did not get involved until 1918. When the feds finally did get involved . . . . Well, yes, you guessed it. They created something that many of us hate today: Daylight Saving Time.

The story might leave you wondering: What would have happened if the federal government had never gotten involved and simply left the matter to the states and to individuals, where it began?



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