Simanaitis Says

On cars, old, new and future; science & technology; vintage airplanes, computer flight simulation of them; Sherlockiana; our English language; travel; and other stuff


THIS IS A COLLECTION OF Time Zones tidbits from around the world, combined with a confession of misinformation I offered five decades ago. 

When people didn’t travel much, the sun’s position was quite enough to determine noon and thus other accountings of local time. Formally, this is known as solar time and changes by four minutes for every degree of longitude. Twenty-four hours or 24 x 60 = 1440 minutes in a day; 360 degrees of longitude being a complete rotation; thus, 1440 min/360 deg = 4 min/deg.

For example, Bristol, England, is about 2.5 degrees west of London. And thus when it’s solar noon in London, it’s only 11:50 a.m. in Bristol.

An Early Time Post. Back in 1675, King Charles II established the Royal Observatory at Greenwich. Its site in south east London was chosen quite arbitrarily by Sir Christopher Wren (architect and Savilian Professor of Astronomy); the crown already owned property there. This benchmark played a major role in astronomy and navigation, including the 0/360 point of longitude and also GMT (Greenwich Mean Time).

Railway Time and Telegraphy. Along came widely available (and relatively speedy) railway travel, with its necessity of specifying times of departures and arrivals.  

Wikipedia notes, “In November 1840, the Great Western Railway started using GMT kept by portable chronometers. This practice was soon followed by other railway companies in Great Britain.… By 1855, 98% of Great Britain’s public clocks were using GMT, but it was not made the island’s legal time until August 2, 1880. Some British clocks from this period have two minute hands, one for the local time and one for GMT.”

Wikipedia continues, “Timekeeping on North American railroads in the 19th century was complex. Each railroad used its own standard time, usually based on the local time of its headquarters or most important terminus, and the railroad’s train schedules were published using its own time. Some junctions served by several railroads had a clock for each railroad, each showing a different time.”

U.S. Time Zones. Time zones in the U.S. went through contortions based upon history (an “Intercolonial Zone”), terrain (the Appalachians), and major railway stations. 

This 1913 time zone map of the United States shows boundaries very different from today. Image from Wikipedia.

Wikipedia notes, “The Standard Time Act of 1918, also known as the Calder Act, was the first United States federal law implementing Standard time and Daylight saving time in the United States. It authorized the Interstate Commerce Commission to define each time.”

Not, however, with controversy and ineptitude. Within a year, the section concerning Daylight saving time was repealed, albeit over President Woodrow Wilson’s veto. 

And Section 264 of the act mistakenly included most of Idaho in Central Time; this, despite everyone there recognizing the logic of its being in Mountain Time. Eventually—in 2007—Congress caught up to reality. 

My Timely Misinformation. Back when I was teaching mathematics at the College of the Virgin Islands on St. Thomas, I shared a tidbit in Math for Elementary Teachers concerning Lewis Carroll and Queen Victoria: Her Majesty was much delighted by Carroll’s 1865 Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and wrote him requesting a copy of his next book.

Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, 1832–1898, better known by his pen name Lewis Carrol, English author, poet, and mathematician. Self-portrait, June 1857.

Lewis Carroll, though, was pen name for Oxford mathematician Charles Dodgson. And, fulfilling his queen’s wishes, so the story goes, he sent her his next book: a mathematical treatise on time zones.

A lovely tale. But, according to, it’s not true. David Mikkelson wrote in March 26, 1999, “Dodgson himself denied the rumor about his purported gift to Queen Victoria in a postscript to the second edition of ‘Symbolic Logic’ in 1896: ‘I take this opportunity of giving what publicity I can to my contradiction of a silly story, which has been going the round of the papers, about my having presented certain books to Her Majesty the Queen. It is so constantly repeated, and is such absolute fiction, that I think it worth while to state, once for all, that it is utterly false in every particular: nothing even resembling it has occurred.”

Nevertheless, as they say, se non è vero, è ben trovato. Even if not true, it’s a good story. ds 

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2022


  1. Michael Rubin
    June 12, 2022

    Comments about time remind me of the line from the late San Francisco columnist Herb Caen about the narrow pyramid-shaped Transamerica Tower. He said it should have a clock because, “What good is the inclination if you don’t have the time.”

  2. sabresoftware
    June 13, 2022

    Standard time zones were invented by a Scottish born Canadian railroad engineer, Sir Sandford Fleming in 1876.

    Although theoretically there should be 24 time zones, in actuality there are 40, due to the presence of several 1/2 hour time zones (Newfoundland, Indian subcontinent, and central Australian time zone to name 3) and some 1/4 (or 3/4) hour zones (Nepal and a tiny area in SE Western Australia to name 2).

    The multiplicity of time zones has created challenges for the design of watches with time zone capability. Many list city based time zones limited to less than 40 in count. My Citizen Skyhawks list 43 cities, but not all 40 time zones due to more than one city listed in a given time zone. Fortunately with the ability to set a user defined time zone down to the 1/4 hour any time zone can be included. Most of my other watches can only show a lesser amount of time zones (as low as 26 cities on my Citizen World Chronograph). I believe that my Seiko Astron GPS watch can actually do all 40 time zones. And my Apple Watch should be able to do all 40.

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