When the U.S. Had 144 Separate Time Zones

Before the adoption of standardized time zones, the United States operated on a surprisingly intricate system of over 144 separate time zones. Each city was free to determine its own local time, usually based on the position of the sun. This meant that when it was noon in one city, it could be 12:15 p.m. in a neighboring city just a few miles away. This system was manageable when communities were isolated, but as the country expanded and the railway system connected distant cities, the multitude of local times became problematic. The turning point came with the advent of the railroad industry, when the need for standardized time became apparent. On Nov. 18, 1883 — known as the “day of two noons” — railroads across the country synchronized their clocks to the new standard time zones. It wasn’t, however, until 1918 that the U.S. officially adopted the standard time zone system that we use today. The transition was not immediate or smooth. People were accustomed to their local times and resisted change. However, over time, the benefits of a standardized system became clear, especially for scheduling trains, conducting business, and broadcasting.