The Business of Time

Before I bought a book about early railroad travel in order to research a Christmas story I’m writing for another anthology I never considered what life was like before a national standard time was implemented.

Each community set their own time, usually by the position of the sun. The time of 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 or even cared if the clocks in neighboring towns were either ahead or behind his own.

Not only that, but in each city there were at least two systems of time in use, the local and the railroad, and if a number of railroad companies came into a city, there was an additional system for each of them. Gadgets were sold that could quickly calculate the various times. This seemed plenty good enough for most people.

But as you can imagine, it created a nightmare for railroad companies 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. They pretty much considered him a crackpot.

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 didn’t address the problem and sign into law the Standard Time Act until March 19, 1918.

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.

And now it’s almost time to fall back an hour. Do you agree or disagree with the time change?

 <<——- If you haven’t gotten this book yet, now’s the time.

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Here in the Texas Panhandle, we do love our cowboys. There's just something about a man in a Stetson and jeans that makes my heart beat faster. I'm not much of a cook but I love to do genealogy and I'm a bit of a rock hound. I'm also a NY Times & USA Today bestselling author of historical western romance. You can contact me through my website and I'd love to connect with you on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and more. HAPPY READING!

32 thoughts on “The Business of Time”

  1. Do love trains and clocks in this household. We have my greataunt’s shelf clock,a gorgeous oak piece. My husband is into trains and I gave him a train schedule turn of the century pamphlet as a gift one year.

    I learned recently that there are pockets of the country, COUNTIES even, that do not abide by daylight savings. I turn into such a hibernating bear when it gets dark early that I would love them to figure a way to keep it lighter longer. But I think of the kindergartners getting on the bus in the dark and I relent.

    Peace, Julie

  2. I would prefer that the time stays the same all year round,an I live in a town with a historic Train Depot an my family has worked for the Train Company for years

  3. Congratulations on another anthology, Linda. And a Christmas one at that.
    As for the time change, I don’t mind the one in the fall, but having to get up an hour earlier in the spring is a pain. My vote would be to keep standard time all year and forget about DST.
    Thanks for a great blog – I never thought about the time issue and how it was resolved.

  4. I remember when DST cam into use around here. Some towns adopted it and others did not. People talked about staying on God’s time, as if He had invented and set the clocks, and they thought it was a sin to tamper with it.
    After scraping frost off the windows in the dark this morning, I think I may have to agree with them. 🙂

  5. Fascinating post, Linda. I hadn’t thought much about time zones and when they were implemented. It makes sense that once the transcontinental railroad was completed, some adjustments would have to be made.

    As far as daylight savings, I agree with Elizabeth. I love the extra hour in the fall, but losing that hour in the spring is hard. If I remember right, I think Arizona is one of those states that does not implement DST. The more central you are in the time zone area, the less of a difference it seems to make. But for those who live near a border, it can get dark as early as 4:30 or 5:00 in the evening. That would be rough.

  6. Great subject Linda. I never thought about the time issue with trains. So informative. I agree with everyone else. Sometimes I love daylight savings and other times, I don’t. I love your blog. As I recall, Tucson, AZ doesn’t go to daylight savings, unless it has changed since the last time I had to deal with that area of the world.

  7. Good Morning, Julie… seems (or it’s been my observation anyway) that nothing makes people grouchier than when someone messes with their time. We tend to take it personally when someone steals an hour of our time we can’t get back. I know I always hate when it comes time to change the clocks to Daylight Savings Time. Makes me very grumpy, even though I hate it being so dark in the mornings now. It doesn’t get daylight here until around 7:30. It’s really hard on school kids.

    Thanks for chatting this morning.

  8. Morning, Vickie C…..I think you’re probably in the majority who want to keep Standard time all year round. And as someone whose family has worked for the railroad you’re probably well acquainted with the problems the railroad had in the early days when every town kept a different time. It must’ve given the railroad companies horrendous headaches. I can only imagine.

    Thanks for stopping by. Hope you have a great day!

  9. Good Morning, Elizabeth…’re up really early for California. Glad you enjoyed my blog and special thanks for the congrats about our Christmas anthology. I can hardly wait until this one comes out. I think it might be our best yet. I’m equally excited about your “Christmas Moon.” I haven’t read a good time travel in a while. The premise of yours has hooked me.

    Glad you enjoyed my blog. That research I bought on train travel really opened my eyes about the problems created by everyone having a different time. I wonder what those gadgets looked like that calculated the different times. They must’ve looked very weird.

  10. Morning, Judy H……thanks for stopping by to comment. Everyone seems to have an opinion when the subject is time. I don’t think anything makes people angrier than having someone tamper with the clock. They fought it just as hard in the 1800’s. But I see how it’s really crucial to have a standard time for everyone. There needed to be some kind of order. Now when it comes to DST it’s a different story altogether. I’d really prefer to keep it Standard Time year round. I think the main problem with me (and maybe for everyone else also) is that my body runs on its own clock. When DST arrives I feel really off-kilter and out of sorts.

    Hope you have a wonderful day!

  11. Morning, Karen…..great to have you stop by. Always nice to see you. Glad you enjoyed my subject. It might come in handy for a story sometime. There was a huge debate in the late 1800’s and resistance to changing to a standard time was fierce. Changing the method of keeping time wasn’t that crucial until people began traveling more. And like you said the completion of the transcontinental railroad really created a sense of urgency to adopt a standard time. I found it fascinating how they created the four different time zones.

    Yes, I agree that people who live on the edge of a time zone have the hardest time. I remember thinking it odd when I visited South Dakota that the eastern half of the state was one time and the western part another. And if I remember right it ran right through the middle of one of the small towns. Bet they do have a hard time knowing what time it is.

    Enjoy your day!

  12. What a terrible quirk of fate for Professor Dowd to be killed by a train shortly after doing the industry such a service.

    I can’t imagine everyone doing their own thing for time. It would make it very difficult to coordinate things. If you are out in the woods doing your own thing, no big deal, but trying to schedule things would be a nightmare.

    As far as daylight savings time, it is fine with me. My body starts adjusting on its own to the changes in daylight and was usually in sync with the clock. That was true until the government decided to adjust the weeks the time changed. It changes too early now.

    I’ll be looking for the Christmas anthology. I love anthologies and holiday ones are my favorite.

  13. very interesting post!
    good to know how it all came about

    i wish time stayed the same
    though i must say i’ll be very grateful to fall back an hour here soon
    my body is driven by the sun…and if it’s not up, i don’t want to be either

    i hate all the changing around though

  14. Interesting subject. My family has lived on both ends of the Central Time, currently on the eastern side. Years back we lived in the middle of Kansas and it was odd seeing the sun set about 20 minutes later than what we were used to in Iowa.

    I do have a sister who lives in the part of Alaska that sees long periods of dark and light, if there wasn’t a change in time, I don’t think it’d much matter up there.

  15. Linda,
    Very interesting post, as always! I never really thought about time and how it all became so regulated. This is just fascinating to me. I can see why it would be so crucial with the trains, for sure. I think about all the old movies where someone looks at their pocket watch when the train whistle blows and utters the line, “Right on time!” LOLLOL Funny when you know how hard it was to get it to that point.

    As for the time change, I guess as I’ve gotten older it just doesn’t bother me that much. I remember as a kid thinking it was like getting out of school an hour later in the spring, but my mom always seemed to look forward to “fall back” in the fall, so for me I grew up not minding the changes so much. My husband just hates it.

    Great post, and I really enjoyed learning about this subject. I am going book shopping at the end of the month–this book will definitely be on my list–I love anthologies!

  16. Hi Patricia B……I’d have to agree that Professor Dowd had bad luck. Bet he never thought he’d be killed by a train. Too strange. I found it rather odd that people fought tooth and nail against adopting a standard time. I’m sure the lack of one created a multitude of problems for travelers. Looks like they’d have wanted something to make their lives easier.

    I’m glad your body adjusts on its own to the time change. You’re lucky. My body tends to fight it. It likes Standard Time. 🙂

    I do hope you’ll like our Christmas anthology. I think it’s our best yet. It’ll be out next year right around Christmas time. It’ll make a nice Christmas gift for someone. Holiday stories are my favorites too.

  17. Hi Tabitha…….Glad you enjoyed my blog. I always learn something new by reading these blogs. Until I bought the book on early train travel I never knew there was such a problem with keeping time. I don’t think I ever thought much about it.

    I’m with you as far as getting up with the sun. If it’s dark out I have to beat myself with a stick to crawl out of bed. But if it’s starting to turn daylight I don’t have a problem. I’m afraid I wouldn’t make a very good rooster!

    Have a great day!

  18. Hi Winter Peck……Love your name! Glad you found my blog interesting. You certainly can relate, having lived in various time zones. I’d hate to live in Alaska. I can’t imagine what it’d be like to be dark for days on end. I’d be one of those people who’d have to invest in artificial lighting of some sort. But I still think it’d be depressing to look outside at noon and the sky would be dark. Talk about a hard adjustment.

  19. My dear Phyliss……thanks for taking a moment from your busy schedule to leave a comment. You’re a true friend! I’m sure you’re finding lots of interesting subjects to blog about as you finish your Christmas story for our upcoming anthology. Can’t wait.

    Yes, you’re right about Tucson, Arizona not changing to DST. Except it’s the whole state (with the exception of the Navajo Indian Nation) that stays on Standard Time. Hawaii is the only other state that voted not to adopt DST.

    Wishing you lots of inspiration, lady!

  20. I wish they would leave the time just like it is right now, because when they change it, we will be getting dark at five oclock and I hate that. I would rather have the extra hour of light in the evening. It just messes up your whole schedule. Sleep and everything. So I don’t agree with the time change at all.

  21. Oddly, it was Benjamin Franklin who first tried to create DST. I certainly didn’t know it was proposed that far back. He wanted it implemented to save on candle usage. Very funny because lots of homes were so dark they had to use candles in order to see all day long.

  22. Hi Cheryl P…….Glad you enjoyed my subject. You always write some interesting blogs yourself, Filly sister. We seem to have had the same thought about people looking at clocks in western movies and proclaiming the train to be on time. On time according to what? Very funny.

    I hate to be the bearer of frustrating news. Our Christmas anthology won’t be out until this time next year. *sigh* Wish it was sooner but we’re still writing our stories.

    Hope you have a great day!

  23. Hi Quilt Lady……always a pleasure to have to stop by. It sounds like you’re digging in your heels about this time change business. I can see the pros and cons but I’d really prefer it to stay on one time all year long. I hate to have my sleep pattern messed with.

    Enjoy our day!

  24. I love where I live… we do not change our clocks… the only problem is that any shows on cable do change time… Thanks for the interesting post!

  25. Great post. Trains and clocks what an interesting combination. I wish we would leave the time one way or the other. By the time you get accustomed to one time it’s time to change back or jump forward.

  26. Hi Colleen…….Glad you liked my post. It must really be nice to not have to change your clocks. But I’d never considered that all of the TV programming would be off. Seems there are problems with everything. We can’t escape them.

    Have a wonderful afternoon.

  27. Hi April R…….Glad you enjoyed my subject. Half the time I can’t remember if I’m supposed to jump forward or back. It’s a little confusing. I just try not to let myself get too upset over it.

    Thanks for coming by and come back again soon.

  28. Hi Estella…….thank you for stopping by. It’s always nice to see your comments. Seems everyone pretty much has an opinion today. People are really protective of their time.

    Enjoy your day!

  29. I’ve never heard of this before, but you know, it makes sense. Why would the whole world have their clocks set for the same time.

    I remember I line I wrote in my book Golden Days, set in Alaska. The little Tlingit Indian girl said something like, “What is the use of a clock in Alaska? The time is ‘winter and not winter’ that’s all that matters.

    Really interesting.

  30. Hi Linda, enjoyed your blog on the time and how it came to be. We are opening a new museum here in Jefferson on Time and Measurements. Sounds interesting. I am now on line so contact me and give me your email address. Love you little sister. Irene

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