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 changed occurred in an effort to end the confusion of dealing with thousands of local times. Before the time zones were established, most towns in the United States had their own local time generally based on the movement of the sun.
Rather than requesting assistance from the federal governments of the North American countries, the powerful railroad companies created a new time code system themselves. Because railroads served as the primary link between most Americans and Canadians to the rest of the world, most people quickly embraced their new time zones. Congress did not officially adopt the railroad time zones until 1918.
Explore American Experience’s “Streamliners” timeline of significant historical events related to the American railroad.
Image: Library of Congress
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