Recently, most of the United States moved their clocks back one hour to signify the return to “standard time” after spending the last eight months or so on “daylight time.” There are exceptions to this, such as the state of Arizona, parts of Indiana, parts of Nevada and a few other scattered areas.
But what makes “standard time” standard? It all goes back to 1883, when all American railroads agreed on a set of four time zones to represent the continental United States. Prior to this, there were as many as one hundred “local” time zones. In effect, pretty much every town of any size could decide, on their own, what time it happened to be right there at any given time.
That’s fine for the people who live in that particular town, and as there wasn’t a lot of intertown or interstate commerce at that time, few people cared, really, what time it was.
The people who owned and operated railroads didn’t feel that way. That’s understandable, as trains had to run between towns and trains needed to maintain schedules. That meant that the railroad itself needed to have some sort of common frame of reference so that they could know when they needed to be in Town A and when they needed to be in Town B without reference to whatever arbitrary schedules the citizens of A or B might be keeping.
A further complication is that railroads needed to agree among themselves what the time was, as trains occasionally need to pass one another and no one, then or now, was particularly fond of collisions.
In the 1870s, the U.S. Weather Bureau also decided that having some standardized time zones would be beneficial, and eventually, the railroads, the Weather Bureau and Congress all got involved. The U.S. was divided into four time zones, and this simplified everything for anyone who had business between multiple cities or across state lines.
Eventually, a few cities opted to tweak their time zones a bit to suit local needs. Parts of western Indiana, which would fall in Eastern Time, have adopted Central Time as their time zone since many people who live there work in nearby Illinois.
In 1918, during World War I, Congress decided that it might be beneficial to adjust the time of the entire nation during the summer to give the impression of having an extra hour of daylight. This created Daylight Saving Time, which is often erroneously called Daylight “Savings” Time. It doesn’t matter; we’re not really “saving” anything, but most people would rather have an extra hour of light during the evening, when they can enjoy it, than during the morning, when it would be interrupting their sleep.
Some parts of the country, and the entire state of Arizona, don’t bother with it.
At this time of the year, people move their clocks back one hour and get an extra hour of sleep. It’s been going on for so long that many people don’t even know why we do it, or how long it’s been going on.
It’s the trains.