The advent of the wide use of the chronometer aboard ships after Captain James Cook’s first testing of it led to the standardization of time with Greenwich Mean Time being the rule by which all time was to be measured. Ship captains could now easily calculate their longitude by comparing actual “sun time“ to Greenwich clock time. It wouldn’t be long until the steam revolution set the world moving at previously unheard of speeds. When railroads became a part of everyday life, traveling on schedule became much more important, not only for keeping business appointments, but for preventing wrecks when scheduling track use. For most early railroads this did not present a major problem since the distance traversed was usually relatively small.

However, as trains got faster and railroads got longer, sometimes spanning entire continents, the need to have every town on some standard schedule became more and more apparent. Local areas that had always set their watches by the town clock which had been set by observing the sun or similar measures became part of regional, national, and global time keeping systems. The physical fact is that the sun is at actual noon over any given location for only a short time. The end result was time zones, with the clock time changing one hour at designated meridional locations, and all towns within that designated boundary sharing a hypothetical regional noon. Although there was a standard time in effect for British railways a few years earlier, Sir Sanford Fleming, a surveyor who laid out the route for the first trans-Canada railroad is generally credited with the idea of splitting the globe into 24 zones and creating world-wide standard time zones (~1885). Transportify

Transportify

Another interesting and related topic is daylight savings time. Many people will tell you it was invented by Benjamin Franklin, and he did indeed put a very similar concept forward in a satirical piece for a Parisian paper, but the credit for the institution of daylight savings time actually goes to an Englishmen, William Willet. He first proposed it in 1907 as a way to get more hours in the afternoon for playing golf, and to coincidentally reduce power use by not “wasting” daylight on early morning hours when most people were asleep. Parliament considered his idea, but due to political resistance it was not instituted until WW I threatened to cause an energy crisis. Germany was actually the first nation to pass laws for saving daylight, but Britain did the same about a month later.

In the modern world, with high speed air and train travel, scheduling and uniform time systems are even more important. It is seldom noticed or appreciated except for a few days a year when everyone must reset their clocks for daylight savings, but standardized time is a very important factor in transporting the passengers, goods, and raw materials that keep our modern world functioning. The world was indeed very much different before the chronometer. Towns within a day’s ride by horse and buggy could have totally different clock times without causing anyone the least bit of real worry. Now computers, phone systems, and even industrial and heavy equipment all have to be synchronized with the standard time to be sure that nothing goes amiss.