The Sunday of Two Noons
Chaos within the railroad system spurred the establishment of standard time in 1883.
Jenny- Fall 2003
Sanford Fleming, chief engineer of Canadian Pacific Railway, stood alone at a railway station, waiting for his train to arrive at 5:35 P.M. Time passed and there was no train. He verified the time in his schedule book. Flustered, Fleming asked for the assistance of an employee, who told him there had been a misprint in the book. He was going to have to spend 16 hours waiting in the station. Most people would have cursed and moved on, but Fleming saw the mistake as more than just a misprint. It was just one example of the inefficiency in the world and timetables of the era. Fleming seized the opportunity as a way to relieve the frustrations of many, through a vision called standard time (Blaise, 2000).
Across America, the number of local times quickly grew out of control. The Chicago Tribune reported 38 local times in Wisconsin and 27 in Indiana alone (Fremo, 11).
time” was on the verge of collapse, poised between remaining a
successful time keeping system and falling into utter turmoil. By the
mid-1800’s, the rapid growth of railroad travel had broken this
delicate balance of “sun time’s” existence.
Individual railroad lines adopted their own “times” based either
upon major towns they ran through, or by the rail line’s home city (Fremo,
7). For example, the B&O railroad “used Baltimore time for trains
running out of Baltimore, Columbus time for trains in Ohio, [and]
Vincennes time for trains west of Cincinnati.”(Holbrook, 1947, p.
With no one running on the same time, chaos was inevitable. It was not uncommon for travelers like Sanford Fleming to miss trains due to the confusions in times (Holbrook, 1947). Other travelers, such as August Mencken, found the numerous times overwhelming. “A great source of inconvenience in traveling is what appears to be a foolish arrangement of clocks…In a 40 hours’ ride now commenced, we had three times-Washington, Vincennes, and St. Louis...” (Solomon, 2001, p. 70). Railroad collisions were also prevalent because trains ran on different schedules and were unaware of other trains. (Reed, 5) As the New York Herald simply put it “The confusion of time standards (referring to no time zones) was the source of unceasing annoyance and trouble.” (Fremo, 17).
Meanwhile, in St. Louis (1874), railroad superintendents met to “arrange summer passenger schedules”, and formed the General Time Convention. (Holbrook, 1947) William Allen, who wrote for a railroad newsletter, was elected secretary of the convention in 1876. (Holbrook, 1947,p. 356) He followed in Dowd’s footsteps, proposing the implementation of five time zones: Intercolonial, Eastern, Central, Mountain, and Pacific. (Holbrook, 1947)
In Chicago on October 11, 1883, at the Grand Pacific hotel, the
General Time Convention finally adopted Allen’s proposal. (Corliss,
1952, p. 1) Then, on Sunday November 18, 1883,later known as the
“Sunday of Two Noons”, standard time was instigated across the U.S.
One Chicago reporter wrote: “The feat was successfully accomplished, and a general murmur of satisfaction ran through the [West Side Union Depot].” (Holbrook, 1947,p. 359).
However, not everyone was satisfied. Several people, including Mayor
Dogberry of Maine, believed standard time was “unconstitutional,
being an attempt to change the immutable laws of God Almighty…” (Holbrook,
1947,p. 356). Others disliked the concept of following a time standard
that was set solely by the railroads. An editor for the Indianapolis Sentinel
wrote: “The planets must,
in the future, make their circuits by such timetables as railroad
magnates arrange…people must marry by railroad time, and die by
railroad time.” (Holbrook, 1947, p.357). However, others found the
topic humorous. The New York
Herald wrote: “The man who
goes to church in New York today will hug himself with delight to find
that the noon service has been curtailed to the extent of nearly four
minutes…” (Fremo, 33).
Despite the public’s reaction, standard time prospered. In 1918, more than 30 yrs. after railroads created time zones, the U.S. Congress passed the Standard Time Act (Holbrook, 1947). This act officially recognized standard time and gave the Interstate Commerce Commission the right to determine time zone boundaries. (Holbrook, 1947)
Antiquities Journal (2003) Time Becomes “Standard”
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