Once upon a time the furthest man could travel in one day was 50 kilometers on foot or 80 kilometers in a horse-drawn carriage. Time-zone complications were just a twinkle in watchmakers’ eyes, as it would take a traveler at least three weeks of continuous trotting before he or she would even start to notice that the sun wasn’t exactly overhead at midday.
Trains, times and trouble
As travel gained speed with the arrival of the railway in the 1800s, however, discrepancies between different local times started to become evident and even problematic. Train scheduling became a mathematical nightmare as every station set its clocks in accordance with its own town sundial. So from the start of a train’s journey, to the end of the line, there could be time differences that sometimes differed by hours.
The logistics of time and travel were not only confusing, but also dangerous as accidents relating to these time differences started to become more frequent with the growing number of trains on the tracks and the impossible task of managing timetables with time disparities at every stop.
Different solutions were tried across the globe, from complex time-conversion tables to issuing railway personnel with pocket watches that would be synchronized at the beginning of the working day. But it was in England, the birthplace of the railway, that the idea of synchronizing local times came into effect.