Posts Tagged ‘time zones’

Geography Trivia: Chester A. Arthur and the Prime Meridian

Chester A. Arthur

Chester A. Arthur Research Topic via ProQuest’s eLibrary

These days, the average person takes for granted how easy it is to get from one place to another. Most of us don’t even need maps when traveling. We have GPS technology in our cars and GPS Apps on our phones that tell us which direction to go and where to turn and when we will arrive at our destination. Our phones even change the time for us when we enter in to a new time zone. But, this was not always the case.

The prime meridian is a great circle drawn on maps and globes of the Earth that passes through the North and South Poles, separating the globe into two hemispheres: East and West. This prime meridian passes through Greenwich, England. Governments, however, did not always agree that the Greenwich meridian was the prime meridian, making navigation and time standardization very difficult. Sea navigation, as well as the astronomical charting of stars, usually remained a matter of local, national or sometimes even religious preference. Maps could be based on longitude east or west of St. Petersburg, Rome, Jerusalem, Paris, the Canary Islands or Washington D.C. Needless to say, all of these prime meridians led to a massive amount of international confusion. Although latitude (North and South) had always been measured from the Equator, there was no equivalent point from which to measure longitude.

The beginning of the 19th Century saw calls for unification and the adoption of one common meridian. But the problem was not one of geographical location alone; it was also linked to the measurement of time. To standardize one, would require the standardization of the other.

The Prime Meridian

The Prime Meridian Photo via NASA [Public Domain]

By the 1870s, with the increasing use of rail transportation, there was intense pressure both to establish a prime meridian for worldwide navigation purposes and to unify local times for railway timetables. Great Britain had already solved this problem by using the Greenwich Meridian to standardize its time zones. In the United States, the problem with time standardization was more complicated, with one railroad timetable showing over 100 local times varying by more than 3 hours. President Chester A. Arthur decided he had had enough. He called for an International Meridian Conference, which was held in Washington D.C. in October 1884, to determine a prime meridian for international use. Specifically, the Conference was to hammer out the choice of “a meridian to be employed as a common zero of longitude and standard of time reckoning throughout the world.”

Delegates from 25 countries attended the Conference. The Conference established that the meridian passing through the Royal Observatory at Greenwich would be the Earth’s prime meridian, and all longitude would be calculated both east and west from it up to 180 degrees. The Conference also established Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) as a standard for astronomy and the setting of time zones.

Standing on the Greenwich Meridian

One Can Stand in Both the Eastern and Western Hemispheres Astride the Greenwich Meridian [Photo via Wikimedia Commons] (CC BY-SA 2.0)

This semester, there are two good reasons for Geography teachers to tell students about the 1884 International Meridian Conference: 1. It is a very interesting topic, and. 2. How often do Geography teachers get to mention Chester A. Arthur in class? Teachers can have their students use eLibrary to find out more about the Prime Meridian and other Geography-related topics.

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Trivia Time:

  • In addition to sporting some very flashy sideburns, by all accounts, Chester A. Arthur’s presidency was a popular and successful one. In fact, after Arthur’s death in 1885, Mark Twain wrote of him: “It would be hard indeed to better President Arthur’s Administration.” The New York World also wrote of Arthur’s time in office: “No duty was neglected in his administration, and no adventurous project alarmed the nation.”
  • The prime meridian also sets Coordinated Universal Time (UTC). UTC never changes for daylight savings time. Just as the prime meridian is the standard for longitude, UTC is the standard for time. All countries and regions measure their time zones according to UTC.
  • The vote to select Greenwich at the 1884 Conference passed 22 to 1, with San Domingo (Dominican Republic) voting against and both France and Brazil abstaining.

Spring Ahead?: The Controversial History of Daylight Saving Time

Spring Flowers

Photo credit: Mukumbura via Foter.com / CC BY-SA


It’s time to spring ahead! At 2:00 a.m. on Sunday, March 12, most of us in the United States—unless we live in Arizona or Hawaii—will move our clocks forward one hour. While many people appreciate the extra hour of sunlight at the end of the day, just as many probably dread heading to work and school in the dark before sunrise.

Daylight Saving Time was first used to conserve energy during World War I. Today, more than 70 countries use Daylight Saving Time in at least part of their country. Researchers may be surprised to learn that Daylight Saving Time has such a confusing and complicated history in the U.S. and that there are many arguments for and against its use. Those in favor of DST argue that it saves energy, encourages more physical activity, and reduces accidents and crime. Opponents of DST say that it is economically disruptive, particularly to farmers, and dangerous for children who have to walk to morning bus stops in the dark.

Here is a brief timeline of legislation regarding time zones and Daylight Saving in the U.S.:

1784: Benjamin Franklin suggests the concept of daylight saving as a way to use fewer candles.

1883: American and Canadian railroads establish national time zones to end the confusion of dealing with thousands of different local times.

March 19, 1918: Congress enacts a law to establish standard time zones and sets summer Daylight Saving Time to begin on March 31, 1918.

1919: The Daylight Saving Time law is repealed due to its unpopularity. It remains a local option and is continued in a few states and in some cities.

1942-1943: President Franklin Roosevelt institutes year-round Daylight Saving Time, also called “War Time”, during World War II.

1945-1966: There is no federal law regarding Daylight Saving Time so states and cities are free to choose when it begins and ends. This becomes a source of confusion, especially for the broadcasting industry, railways, airlines, and bus companies.

1966: President Lyndon Johnson signs the Uniform Time Act of 1966 which calls for Daylight Saving Time to begin on the last Sunday of April and to end on the last Sunday of October. The law allows any state that doesn’t want to use Daylight Saving Time to pass a state law exempting themselves.

Jan. 4, 1974: President Richard Nixon signs the Emergency Daylight Saving Time Energy Conservation Act of 1973 in an effort to conserve energy during the 1973 Arab oil embargo. Daylight Saving Time begins on Jan. 6, 1974 and ends on Oct. 27, 1974. Daylight Saving Time then resumes on Feb. 23, 1975, and ends on Oct. 26, 1975.

1986: Congress passes a law declaring that Daylight Saving Time in the U.S. begins at 2:00 a.m. on the first Sunday of April and ends at 2:00 a.m. on the last Sunday of October.

2005: The Energy Policy Act of 2005 extends Daylight Saving Time in the U.S. beginning in 2007.

2007: The Energy Policy Act of 2005 goes into effect with Daylight Saving Time beginning at 2:00 a.m. on the second Sunday of March and ending at 2:00 a.m. on the first Sunday of November.

Find student resources about Daylight Saving Time with these websites, articles, and Research Topics from SIRS Issues Researcher and eLibrary:

Daylight Saving Time

Does Daylight Savings Actually Save Energy?

It’s Not Just a Matter of Time

Research Topic: Daylight Saving Time

Daylight Saving Time Research Topic Screencap via ProQuest eLibrary

Daylight Saving Time Research Topic Screencap via ProQuest eLibrary