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Keeping Track of Time: Understanding Time Zones and Standard Time

March 27, 2019

There’s a Keystone in every great invention.

Daylight Saving Time (DST) recently began in the United States. We all "sprang forward," pushing our clocks forward by one hour. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that we base a great deal of our lives around clocks and timekeeping. That's why we feel it’s important to understand how our system of timekeeping works, and where it came from.
 

Time zones divide the Earth into standardized regions, where each region sets their clocks to the same time, roughly approximated by the movement of the sun across the sky. Read on to find how time zones were created, and why.

Origins of Time Zones

Before the invention of train travel, there was no particular need for structured timekeeping. Every town or small region set clocksbased on when solar noon – the highest point of the sun during the day – occurred at their own exact location.

That all changed in the 1800s when railroads became commonplace. Because trains could cross great distances faster than any other mode of travel at the time, people suddenly began having issues with trains not arriving when they were expected due to variations in timekeeping between distant stops. There was also the possibility of two trains using different time systems being on the same rail at the same time, which could lead to a collision. These transportation dangers meant that it was time for clocks to revolutionize.

In 1874, railway companies began to discuss the possibility of setting all railway clocks to the same time marker. This quickly expanded past the world of railroads and into every home. Greenwich, England was chosen as the 0 degrees longitude position. In other words, noon at the Greenwich Meridian is the time from which we derive the rest of our time zones. You've probably heard time zones be referred to as GMT plus or minus some number. This is describing the offset in hours of a location's time zone from this Greenwich Mean Time.

Time Zones Go Global

Every day, the Earth completes one 360° rotation. Since there are 24 hours in a day, that means that every hour, the Earth spins 15 degrees. In essence, for every 15 degrees in longitude a person moves East or West, solar noon moves earlier or later by one hour. At the equator, one degree is approximately 69 miles, so 15 degrees at the equator is approximately 1000 miles.

The Canadian Sir Stanford Fleming understood that time needed to be standardized across the globe. He came to this realization after spending one miserable night in a railway station when his trains did not agree on timing. To solve this problem for everyone, he suggested two big ideas. The first was that continental America should be split into four meridians—a meridian is a slice of the Earth, running from the North Pole to the South Pole, that can be used to mark time. He also suggested that similar 15° time zones be established around the world.

In 1884, Sir Fleming's plan was accepted at the International Meridian Conference in Washington, D.C. The Prime Meridian, or the 0° mark, was chosen arbitrarily to be placed in Greenwich, England, and all clocks from then on were set based on Greenwich Mean Time. This plan ended confusion with railroad travel times and helped to unify the world by bringing all times into standardization.

The world would truly be chaotic if time hadn't been standardized over a hundred years ago. Imagine having to reset your clock every time you crossed town lines, rather than just broad time zones.

Timekeeping Components at Keystone Electronics

At Keystone Electronics, we support accurate, punctual, and effective timekeeping with key electronic components. We supply battery clips, contacts and holders, PCB terminals, and Test Points for digital clocks and other devices. We have over 70 years of experience creating precision electronics components and hardware. No matter the time zone, we offer excellent products and services at competitive prices.

Learn more about Keystone Electronics' capabilities and services, contact us today.


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