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?