The 1883 adoption of four standard time zones did not come easily. Many Americans, particularly those who continued to mark the passage of time by the natural rhythms of the sun, resisted the efforts of railroad officials and scientists to impose standard time on the nation. William F. Allen, the first secretary of the railroad companies' General Time Convention (GTC), wrote and spoke tirelessly in his efforts to secure time standardization. To minimize opposition, the GTC’s proposed new time zones deviated very little from existing norms: most changes were kept to half an hour or less. Sunday, November 18, 1883—known as the “day of two noons” because people were required to stop what they were doing and reset their clocks anywhere from two to thirty minutes—was remarkably orderly. This New York Times articledescribed the scene in the nation’s largest city. Local and state laws soon ratified the new standard, but as late as 1915, citizen challenges to the time standard were still being considered by the courts.
TURNING BACK THE HANDS
A Quiet Change To the Standard Time
Stopping the Pendulums In the City Clocks and in the Railroad Stations the Movement Started.
At just 9 o’clock, local time, yesterday morning Mr. James Hamblet, General Superintendent of the Time Telegraph Company, and manager of the time service of Western Union Telegraph Company, stopped the pendulum of his standard clock in Room No. 48 in the Western Union Telegraph Building. The long glistening rod and its heavy cylindrical pendulum ball was at rest for 3 minutes and 58.38 seconds. The delicate machinery of the clock rested for the first time in many months. The clicking of the electric instrument on a shelf at the side of the clock ceased and with it ceased the corresponding ticks on similar instruments in many jewelry and watch stores throughout the City. When, as nearly as it could be ascertained, the time stated above had elapsed, the heavy pendulum was again set in motion and swung backward and forward in its never varying trips of one second each from one end of its swing to the other. With the starting of the pendulum the clicking of the little instruments all over the City at intervals of two seconds between each click was resumed. Mr Hamblet had changed the time of New York City and State.
The adjustment of Mr Hamblet’s standard clock was sufficiently accurate for the ordinary uses of mankind, but not for scientific purposes. His clock is adjusted to hundredths parts of a second, a space of time so infinitesimal as to be almost beyond human perception. That absolute accuracy might be assured, comparisons were then made by telegraph with the observations at Washington, Allegheny, Penn., and Cambridge, Mass., and absolute accuracy was thus obtained. From the actual time thus obtained the New York Central Railroad took the new standard of time at 10 o’clock, and thus became the first railroad in the country to adopt a new standard. This time was chosen by this company as the hour least likely to interfere with its business. The standard time was from this time on indicated throughout the City wherever the little tickers are in the habit of announcing it. In many of the jewelers' shops the standard time clocks were set to correspond to the new signals at that hour. In others the change was not made until 12 o’clock. Where absolute accuracy was not required, as in tower clocks, the large show clocks and regulators adjusted only to seconds, and the clocks along the lines of the elevated roads, the clocks were simply stopped for four minutes, and then, by watches previously adjusted to the new standard, were again started at the expiration of that time, leaving the adjustment of the second and a half, which was gained by this process, to the future, when clocks and watches shall have been regulated to the new standard. The Western Union Telegraph Company’s time-ball fell sharply at the new 12 o’clock, and so gave to mariners and ship-masters an opportunity to set their time pieces on seventy fifth meridian time.
Curious people, some of whom could not exactly understand how the time could be changed without some serious results, crowded the sidewalk in front of jewelry stores and watch repair establishments to see the great transformation. There was a universal expression of disgust when it was discovered that all that was necessary to effect the change was to stop the clock for four minutes and then start it again. A large crowd gathered in the vicinity of the City Hall to watch the change as indicated on the faces of the clock which rests under the shadow of the restored Cypriote antique of Justice.
“Begorra,” remarked to his companion a vermilion topped Hibernian who was watching the south face of the clock, “the thing has stopped; phwats the matther wid it, anyhow? I don’t see no time changin', do you Mike?”
“Divil a change at all, can I see,” said his companion, who turned away with apparent disgust after watching the motionless hand for a minute or two. “Lave us go on, the hull thing’s a sell.”
“Howld your whist, will you,” said the first speaker who gazed fixedly at the clock. “She’s movin‘ agin. Watch it now.” The two gazed steadily at the clock, and saw the minute hand again start on its course. The started for Parkrow, and one sadly remarked to the other, “I towld yer ’twas a sell. The clock’s running agin,and there’s been nary a change of time at all, at all.”
At the Pennsylvania railroad station in Jersey City the change from local (Philadelphia) time was made to correspond with standard time. The clock marked “New York Time” was removed from the waiting room. The sign over the large clock, “Philadelphia Time,” was removed, the clock was stopped for one minute and then resumed running. Only one minute’s stoppage was needed to change this to standard time, as it was already slower than New York time. To-day will have placed above it a sign bearing the legend, “Standard Time.” At all other railroad stations in the city the local time was changed to standard time. To-day the railroads will issue their new time-tables, based upon the new standard The two large clocks in the window at the entrance to the Western Union Telegraph Company’s main office, in Broadway, one marked Chicago time and the other marked New York time, showed practically the change effected in the adoption of the new standards. The minute hands pointed to the same numerals on the faces, but the Chicago time hour-hand indicated one hour earlier than did that of New York. That is, at 1:20 Eastern standard (New York) time it was 12:20 Central standard (Chicago) time. If one will bear in mind hereafter that in a correct clock or watch there will be no variation here or in England in the minute and second hands, there need be no trouble. The traveler will simply have to add to the standard time for this City just an hour for every fifteen degrees he moves east, or deduct one hour for every fifteen degrees he moves west; then he can always tell the exact clock time wherever he may be. An American bound for Europe would find his watch exactly five hours slow when he arrived in London, England. It would be exactly three hours fast if he went across the continent to San Francisco.
Mr. W. F. Allen, editor of the National Railway Guide and Secretary of the National Railway Time Convention, to whose knowledge of both practical and scientific sides of the time question is due to the change brought about throughout the country, was in the City yesterday and watched Mr. Hamblet make the change in the standard in this City. When the news came over the wires that the change had been successfully made, he expressed himself as greatly pleased, as well he might be, with the successful accomplishment of his work. In addition to the preparation of the schedules where the time may be changed on the railroads at the terminal points or routes or divisions he had prepared and furnished to the railroad companies a “translation” of the standard time for all sections by which the time schedules in use on Saturday could be readily changed to the standard time. The preparation of this translation required a vast amount of labor, for which he finds his reward in the saving of necessary calculations by railroad officers and their consequent thanks, and in the remembrance that his name will be forever connected with the successful accomplishment of one of the most useful reforms possible to the heretofore often bewildered traveler.
When the reader of THE TIMES consults his paper at 8 o’clock this morning at his breakfast table it will be 9 o’clock in St. John, New Brunswick, 7 o’clock in Chicago, or rather in St. Louis—for Chicago authorities have refused to adopt the standard time, perhaps because the Chicago meridian was not selected as the one on which all time must be based—6 o’clock in Denver, Col. and 5 o’clock in San Francisco. That is the whole story in a nut-shell.
THE CHANGE ELSEWHERE
BOSTON, Nov. 18—The new time standard went into effect successfully in this section to-day. Prof. Pickering at the Harvard University watched through a telescope for the time-ball in this city. At the proper moment the ball fell and the signal stroke of the fire alarm bells was given simultaneously. The clocks in the railroad stations, which are connected with the observatory by wire and have the usual apparatus for receiving instantaneously the beats of the pendulum of the observatory clock, were at once set upon the new standard and the running of the trains regulated according to it. One isolated wire of the Western Union Company between this city and New York was kept in connection all day with the other observatory wire at Cambridge, and thus the beats of the pendulum there were instantly transmitted to New York, and from thence distributed in all directions South and West as it was called for.
PHILADELPHIA, Penn., Nov. -There was a good deal of interest manifested at the railroad stations and other places to-day in the change of time that went into effect at noon. A curious assemblage gathered in front of Independence Hall to witness the operation of setting the hands forward, and the intent expression with which the spectators gazed at the dial deepened into one of bewilderment when, after half an hour’s watch, no change was apparent on the face of Philadelphia’s principal clock. The delicate operation of adjusting the monster mechanism in the belfry of Independence Hall was performed by William E. Harpur, and occupied just 10 minutes. At the Broad-street station of the Pennsylvania Railroad several amusing incidents occurred among anxious individuals who did not have a clear idea of the change that was about to take place. By the new standard Philadelphia is 36 seconds faster than before.
PETERSBURG, Va., Nov. 18-At noon to-day the city clock and the time pieces in different railroad offices here were set by the standard time received from Washington. Hereafter all trains from this city will run by the standard time, under the new schedule.
Source: New York Times, 18 November 1883.