If you traveled back to pre War Between the States days in any part of the good old US, you would set your pocket watch to the local time where you were. There were no time zones here or anywhere else in the world. Time was pretty much set by the local towns around the world. Almost any town of size would have a bell tower with a clock and everyone in the neighborhood would set their time pieces to it. Days of the week and months of course were observed uniformly throughout the civilized world. But for commerce and communications you were limited to those broad times and used local time strictly for local events.
In those days of a slower pace where mail went by coach, riverboat or ship it didn’t much matter what time of the day it was in New York if you lived on the banks of the Mississippi. We have already discussed before how time was so important for navigation on the seas and that substantial awards were even offered for someone who could invent an accurate enough clock to help measure longitude on the oceans of the world. After all time is the way to measure both distance and speed. But sailing ships still moved pretty slowly and even the early steam ships still were ponderous. When you reached port you would set your pocket watch again to the local time whatever it was.
Then came the railroads and the telegraph. Now everything was faster. The early trains mostly ran on single tracks with sidings along the way. It wouldn’t do to have trains banging into each other so there was a vital need that the train companies have a uniform time they could all agree on. When the train from Buffalo was on its way to Chicago it had to know for sure when the train from Chicago going the other way would be coming down the same track. Of course there was the obvious business need to deliver goods on time to their destination so they could be transshipped even farther. It was in the mid 19th century that we (the railroads) started making time uniform throughout the country and the general population adopted and started using the same time standards. This lead to the use of the modern time zones to further refine the timekeeping method to organize schedules when going east to west or vice versa.
When you see a sign on the highway as you leave town and it says that it is 30 miles to the next place, have you ever thought about what the standard was that they used to measure those distances? I mean some places are pretty big. From one end of Dallas to the other is about 20 miles and the same with Ft. Worth. So what do we use to state the distance because it could obviously vary by many miles?
The railroads again. For the same reasons as the need for uniform time they needed standards to determine speed and time of arrival, departures, etc. So they set the standard as city hall to city hall unless the city happened to be the county seat of government in which case the county courthouse was used as the beginning or ending point for measurements.
The early work of the railroads have a daily effect on your life that you never noticed.