15 June 2012

Where Were They? The Day Standard Time Began

Where were they?  A real question, worthy of evaluating. In the past, we have relived a blizzard and extreme heat. Today, our moment in history is a human development; that of "standard time."



White Pine Cone, White Pine, Gunnison County, Colorado Newspaper
30 Nov 1883, Page 3
Part of an article explaining the change to Standard Time.

18 November 1883. The railroads in the United States and Canada adopt "Standard Time" to unify the schedules and routes across the continent. Starting at exactly noon, we divided into time zones using hour differentials; the same system still in place today. The idea did not necessarily change life as a whole for the average American, it took some time for the effects to spread. The idea of daylight savings time was first concocted by Benjamin Franklin, during his time as Ambassador in France, in 1748, but was not instigated until the 1900's. (Source on all above facts: http://www.webexhibits.org/daylightsaving/d.html.)

So, where were they?

Where were my ancestors when standard time went "live"? Were they about to board a train? Were they out in the wilderness and had no idea this was even happening?

Let's find out.

My usual suspects will make their presence known once again: Oscar F. Brown and Eilert Heerten. I've also decided to try to include some folks that were in more urban environments.

The date in question is 18 November 1883. Oscar was 51 years of age, had a wife and four kids, with two more to come later. They were living in Richland, Nebraska, having given up the homesteading life, and Oscar was serving a two year term as a State Senator. We can assume from his "in town" political activity that the family knew of the adoption of standard time. The railway had been in Richland since 1866, and in 1879, they had a grocery store (http://www.casde.unl.edu/history/counties/colfax/richland/). The town was well on its way by 1883.  I wonder if and when the State Senate made the switch? From what I've read, it started with the railroads, and took some time for the rest of society to catch on, so did governments switch earlier than the rest of society? Would the Brown's have adapted to the new system to make life more seamless for Oscar in his public office, or did he just adjust from his personal to professional life?


Eilert's whereabouts during this time are a little more uncertain. We know he was in Illinois in 1875, and in Nebraska by 1890, but those in between years are a little gray. For the purposes of this post, I'm going to assume he was already in Keya Paha County, Nebraska, since its only a few years off.   

From what I have been able to find, the Nebraska Northeastern Railway Company and the Burlington-Northern San Francisco (BNSF) currently run routes near Springview, the county seat. Both of these also run near Ainsworth, in neighboring Brown County, which is where the Heerten family is buried. However, the railroading history in the area began in 1883, with the arrival of the Fremont, Elkhorn and Missouri Valley Railroad (in fact, the town of Ainsworth was named after one of the rail construction engineers); which may seem relatively late to most for the first train. I would have to guess that since the rails were not a significant part of life for the north central area of Nebraska residents, then neither was the designated change to "standard time" in late 1883.

What about those that resided in the cities, or in major transportation hubs? Did it make a bigger difference?

In 1883, the McGowan family was living in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Patrick worked in the steel industry, and Elizabeth, or "Lizzie", was at home, pregnant with their first of ten children, who would be born Mary Ann.  Knowing little about the steel industry in 1883, I can only assume that they had ties to the railroad system for shipping their material out from their factory or, at the very least, a distribution center of some sort. So, again, I think that my 2nd great grandfather Patrick would have been aware of the new program, and that it affected his work life in some way. (Of course, I've just created a whole new line of research for myself, haven't I?)


How long, I wonder, did it really take for standard time to gain a foothold in every day life.  It must have felt very unnatural to some, to start watching the clock, versus just watching the sun. Did some folks fight it; just absolutely adamantly refuse to adapt? Or did they shrug it off, downplaying the impact on their routines and way of life. It would have mattered, eventually, even in the most basic ways. Churches, government offices, schools, stores and markets. They all would have had to adopt the idea at some point.

Do you think your ancestor welcome standard time with open arms, or did they argue that it was unnecessary and unnatural?

Perhaps, only time will tell...