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 It's About Time By Laura G. Smith

1     "Do you know what time it is?" It's a question we either ask or answer nearly every day. We plan to do certain things, meet certain people, or go to certain places at certain times, based on our schedules. Imagine how confusing our days would be if we had no organized way to measure time!

2     Before timekeeping and clocks were invented, people used to know approximately what time it was by watching the sun. When the sun is at its highest point in the sky, this is known to be 12 o'clock noon (or midday). Directly above every spot on the earth, an imaginary curved line called the celestial meridian passes through the sky. As the earth rotates on its axis, the sun crosses every celestial meridian once each day. When the sun crosses the celestial meridian above a particular place, the time there is noon. Every place on earth that is east or west of another place has noon at a different time. The time at any particular place is called the local time.

3     By the 1700's man had developed accurate clocks and watches that told time to the minute. Each town would set their clocks at noon each day based on the position of the sun. The town clock would be the "official" local time, and the citizens would set their pocket watches and clocks to the same time. Some of the townspeople even earned money by traveling house-to-house adjusting clocks in their customers' homes on a weekly basis. Since each town set its official clock according to the position of the sun at that particular location, travel between cities meant having to change one's pocket watch upon arrival.

4     As railroads grew to be a more widespread mode of transportation, time became a more important issue. In the early years of the railroads, the schedules were very confusing because each stop was based on a different local time.

5     In 1878, Sir Sanford Fleming, a Canadian civil engineer and builder of the Intercolonial Railway across Canada, proposed that the world should be divided into twenty-four time zones. Sir Fleming's idea was recognized worldwide as a brilliant solution to a chaotic problem and earned him the title of "Father of Standard Time."

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