All aboard for a lesson in time zones

TEXT OF STORY

MARK AUSTIN THOMAS: Time to open up the Vault for this week in the History of Business and a look at how railroads gave us a different sense of time.


STACEY VANEK-SMITH: Back in the 1800s, most U.S. towns set their clocks by the sun. High noon was the touchstone for local timekeeping, but that started to pose a major problem as railroads expanded across the country.

Reliable schedules for travel and the delivery of goods became almost impossible, because times varied so much between towns.

So this week back in 1883, the all-powerful railroads cut the country up into four time zones.

Because trains were the commercial life-lines for many towns, there wasn't much resistance.

In fact, the lines the railroads drew pretty much match up with the ones we use today.

But it took the government awhile to catch up with industry. Congress didn't officially adopt time zones until 1918.

I'm Stacey Vanek-Smith.

About the author

Stacey Vanek Smith is a senior reporter for Marketplace, where she covers banking, consumer finance, housing and advertising.

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