When I wrote a story years ago for an anthology called A TEXAS CHRISTMAS, I had to buy a book about early railroad travel. It was such an eye-opener. I never considered what a real mess life was before a national standard time was implemented.
Each community set their own time, usually by the position of the sun. The progression of the day was simply a local matter, marked by some well-known clock such as on a church steeple or in a jeweler’s window. No one knew if the clocks in neighboring towns were either ahead or behind his own. And they didn’t care until wide-spread travel happened.
Not only that, but in each city there were at least two systems of time in use, the local’s and the railroad’s, and if a number of railroad companies came into a city, there was an additional system for each of them. Nifty gadgets were sold that could quickly calculate the various times. Can you imagine trying to figure out all this? Oh my gosh! It must’ve been pure chaos.
As you can imagine, it created a nightmare for railroad companies (and I’m sure stage lines also) who were trying to maintain an accurate schedule.
As early as 1809, an amateur astronomer by the name of William Lambert was the first man in the U.S. to sense a growing need. He tried to get something done but no one would listen to him and pretty much considered him a crackpot.
Luckily, Professor Charles Dowd came along and published a pamphlet in 1870 entitled, “A System of National Time for the Railroads.” His original idea was to divide the country into four sections on meridian lines with each section to cover fifteen degrees of longitude or one hour in time. The meridian of Washington, D.C. was the primary meridian. The railroads immediately saw the value of the plan, but they were involved in wars over rates and were not in the mood to cooperate. The country as a whole passed on the idea. Each community took pride in its local time. They dug in their heels and resisted all efforts to make even minor adjustments.
So thirteen years passed with nothing being done. Finally, on Nov. 18, 1883 the national railroad companies in Canada and the U.S. adopted Professor Dowd’s plan. They implemented a standard time system with little inconvenience to anyone.
In recognition of his services, Professor Dowd received annual passes on all the railroads in the U.S. Ironically, he was killed by a train on a crossing at Saratoga, New York in 1904.
The U.S. Congress failed to address the problem. Notice any similarity here? After years of inaction, they finally passed the Standard Time Act on March 19, 1918 and signed it into law.
Then along came the Daylight Savings Plan and that upset everyone’s applecart all over again. People just get all bent out of shape when someone messes with their time, even if it’s for their own benefit. Me included. Boy, I hate when we either have to fall back an hour or spring forward. I can never remember which.