What Time Is It?

Standard time zones of the world, January 2015. Geography and Map Division

Standard time zones of the world, January 2015. Geography and Map Division.

With the recent “fall back” of daylight saving time, we had to reset our clocks and maybe our brains to get used to the change. And, if you’re someone that conducts business in different time zones, that adjustment can take additional getting used to. I know I always have trouble remembering how far ahead or behind other places are in reference to my location, despite having essentially lived at one time or another in all four time zones.

The idea of time zones was actually introduced on Nov. 18, 1883, by North American railroads in an effort to better coordinate train schedules. Standard Railway Time ushered in ordinances enacted by many American cities, which then gave rise to the creation of time “zones.”

The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. Photo by Carol M. Highsmith, June 1, 2015. Prints and Photographs Division.

The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. Photo by Carol M. Highsmith, June 1, 2015. Prints and Photographs Division.

Before clocks, people marked time by the sun and the phases of the moon. With the development of the railway and the invention of the telegraph, accurate time became more important. Prior to adopting SRT, trains traveling east or west between towns had a difficult time maintaining coherent schedules and smooth operations.

The four standard time zones quickly adopted nationwide were Eastern Standard Time, Central daylight Time, Mountain Standard Time and Pacific Daylight Time. They were each one-hour wide due to the fact that 15 degrees of longitude corresponds to a one-hour difference in solar time.

Burlington Route. 1892. Geography and Map Division.

Burlington Route. 1892. Geography and Map Division.



While time zones may have been established with the railroads, the idea of standardized time had been discussed long before. In 1875, Cleveland Abbe – astronomer, meteorologist, and the first head of the U.S. Weather Bureau – lobbied the American Meteorological Society (AMS) to take action on a uniform standard time. You can read more about the history of times zones in this Today in History entry.

As one can imagine, there was some confusion, due to the border of the time zones running through major cities. For example, the border between its Eastern and Central time zones ran through Detroit, Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Atlanta and Charleston. However, Detroit kept local time until 1900, then tried Central Standard Time, local mean time and Eastern Standard Time. The confusion of times came to an end when Standard zone time was formally adopted by the U.S. Congress in the Standard Time Act of March 19, 1918.

Sources: Daylight Saving Time 

Technology at the Library: Display By Design

(The following is an article in the September/October 2016 issue of the Library of Congress Magazine, LCM. The article was written by Fenella France, chief of the Library’s Preservation, Research and Testing Division.) Technological advancements have made it possible for the Library to put several rare maps on long-term display. Preserving and making the Library’s […]

New Website on Martin Waldseemüller

The Geography and Map Division of the Library of Congress and the Galileo Museum in Florence, Italy, today unveiled a multi-media interactive website that celebrates the life and times of 16th-century cartographer Martin Waldseemüller, who created the 1507 World Map, which is the first document to use the name “America,” represent the Pacific Ocean and […]

New Online: Today in History, Hispanic Heritage & Folklife Collections

(The following is a guest post by William Kellum, manager in the Library’s Web Services Division.)  Website Updates Today in History is an online presentation of historic events illustrated by items from the Library’s digital collections. First established in 1997, the site was migrated this month from the American Memory site to a new home […]

Making of the Modern Map

(The following is a feature story in the September/October 2016 issue of the Library of Congress Magazine, LCM. The story is written by Ralph Ehrenburg, chief of the Library’s Geography and Map Division. You can read the issue in its entirety here.) Advances in technology continue to transform the ancient art and science of mapmaking. […]

Here Comes Hayden: New Librarian Gets Busy Start in First Week

To say that Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden is all smiles, excitement and curiosity is an understatement. On her first official day in office last Thursday, her inquisitiveness and thirst for all things was almost palpable. Hayden began her day with a meeting on the National Book Festival. “This is so exciting,” she said, a […]

How Did America Get Its Name?

Today, America celebrates its independence. Our founding fathers drafted and adopted the Declaration of Independence, declaring America’s freedom from Great Britain and setting in motion universal human rights. While the colonies may have established it, “America” was given a name long before. America is named after Amerigo Vespucci, the Italian explorer who set forth the […]

Library in the News: February 2016 Edition

In February, the Library added a host of resources to its offerings, both onsite and online. Early February, the Library debuted a new exhibition on “Jazz Singers,” which offers perspectives on the art of vocal jazz, featuring singers and song stylists from the 1920s to the present. The ArtsBeat blog of the New York Times called […]