[PW] Historical time zones in the US

John Sleasman johnsleasman at gmail.com
Wed Aug 17 17:31:41 PDT 2016

I have no expertise (other than knowing its complex) in the state 
assignment of different counties to the next time zone for the 
convenience of residents, or exemption from DST, but as a railroad buff, 
let me add an additional complication.

Prior to the Standard Time Act of 1918, there were no official 
government boundaries for time zones. Standard time and zones were 
mostly set by railroads in 1883 and after, often at junction points 
where transfers were made from one company to another, or crews were 
changed. Cities might not agree with the railroad, and set their clocks 
differently, but mostly did, as people missed trains if they weren't 
following the same time as the depot. If you look at that 1913 map, 
you'll find that there are often lines - actually, more varied than 
shows at that scale - that bounce back and forth around the states, with 
the central zone reaching the Atlantic in Georgia, and the pacific zone 
reaching into Texas, mostly for the convenience of the Southern and 
Southern Pacific railroads to simplify their operations.

I have an old Official Guide of the Railways that shows the Southern 
having three lines out of a common station (with the N&W) at Bristol. 
The line going west to Knoxville and Chattanooga operates on central 
zone time, as expected. The line west to St. Charles VA also operates on 
central time. But the line east to Mountain City TN operates on eastern 
zone. Hard to tell without exhaustive research, but I might hazard a 
rough guess that was indicative of the surrounding territory, and that 
Bristol VA could have operated on eastern time and Bristol TN on central 
in that era. They would be far from the only border pair that did so. 
Weirder things happened, which was one of the reasons that in additional 
to establishing DST, the 1918 act set up standard boundaries and gave 
control over zones to the government(s).

The Standard Time Act (Calder Act) was signed by President Wilson on 
March 19,1918, setting up both the zones and DST. You might check local 
sources around that date to see if they note any comments about 
standardization and/or boundary changes. Mandatory observance of DST 
only lasted one year, that provision being repealed after the end of WWI.

On 08/17/2016 6:25 PM, Bristol Library wrote:
> I have a patron who wants to know if our twin cities were ever on different
> times. The state line goes down the center of town, half in Tennessee and
> half in Virginia.  My first thought was perhaps there was a time when one
> side didn't observe DST, but so far I haven't found that to be the case,
> though admittedly this is difficult to ascertain.  I'm going through
> microfilmed newspapers but between 1945 and 1967, states could decide when
> they wanted DST to begin and end, providing they wanted to change at all.
> However, in poking around I found an image of a 1913 time zone map for the
> U.S. which would seem to show Virginia in one time zone and Tennessee in
> another.  Does anyone known when the next time zones were set?  Or exactly
> when this time zone might have been set? My thought is that there might be
> an article in a local paper at the time this took place, commenting on the
> event.
> TIA for any help,
> Jeanne
> who is really, really tired of trying to read old microfilm

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