Who Owns Time? The Railroads Do.


From http://www.iptv.org/iowapathways/mypath.cfm?ounid=ob_000194

“At present the jewelers of Burlington are using almost exclusively Chicago time but on Sunday will adopt standard time. Among the jewelers visited by an Hawkeye representative yesterday was Mr. G.H. Waldin, who stated he would change his time to conform to the new schedule of time just formulated for the use of the railroads by the railroad time convention recently held in Chicago. He further said: “Burlington time is now fourteen minutes slower than Chicago time. According to the new standard it will be five minutes slower than Chicago time. According to the new standard it will be five minutes faster than present city time. We get the correct time from Chicago every morning at 2 minutes past 10 o’clock and we receive it here in the store, being connected by wire. Next Sunday we will adopt the new time. We have always used railroad time; the public demands it and we must supply the demand. Very few people in Burlington use the city time.

Upon a request for determining the accurate time in Burlington, the following reply came from the Smithsonian Institute, Washington, D.C.

Dear Sir – In reply to your letter of June 7, I would state that the longitude of Burlington, Iowa, is 91°07′, and that of Chicago, Illinois is 87°38′; the difference therefore is 3°29′. At 4 minutes to 1°, or 4 seconds to 1′, this gives a time difference of 13 minutes and 56 seconds. It is proper to observe that as 1′ of longitude at this latitude is more than half a mile, different points in the two cities, would differ by several seconds.

Yours very respectfully,
Spencer,W. Baird, Secretary,
Smithsonian Institute

It is very probable the city will adopt the new standard time, as it will be generally used in Burlington anyway. So Sunday at noon, if you have correct Chicago time, set back your clock nine minutes, and you will have standard time.

-The Daily Hawkeye
15 November 1883″





8 responses to “Who Owns Time? The Railroads Do.”

    • It’s not all bad though–we do have some beautiful watches and grandfather’s clocks. 🙂 I’m going to make one character complain about standard time while the other thinks order is great–just a brief chat during a dinner party–but maybe I’ll ruminate more over the question. Is it bad that railroads set the new pace? Probably not.

      In the time period you are writing about were there sundials?


      • I can see that conversation. It’s so typical of a certain era. You probably need a few like that to add to the story’s authenticity. Love the addition of the affect of railroads on time. I hadn’t considered that but it’s so obvious now that you mention it.

        I have a gorgeous grandfather clock. It’s an old style, but new. Sigh.

        My era is 1.8 million years ago. Earliest man. I’m investigating what made us human. Certainly problem solving, curiosity, not spending all our time sleeping and eating. Chimps play so not that. It’s a fascinating journey.


      • I can’t imagine how you even do the research for your time period! I guess in one way you can play a little in that there’s a lot of theory but no great abundance of facts–or maybe I’m showing my ignorance here 🙂


      • It’s all about extrapolation and logical deductions, which is all scientists do to figure out prehistory. I read about paleogeology, paleoclimate, what all the paleo scientists think happened Back Then and build my story. Pretty fun actually.

        Talking is the hardest. They didn’t think the way we do–planning, imagining, counting–so it’s difficult to stay authentic.


  1. I love the matter of fact example given of the longitude and latitude, the sense of time being made much more important in the way the railroads would view it! Fun, old fashioned subject matters, and history, too in this post!


    • I’m glad you enjoyed it! In school I used to love studying longitude and latitude–everything so perfectly controlled and mapped out, but the way it’s explained with railroad time sort of boggled my mind–in a fun way. I think it’s fun to imagine the person writing the note.


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