Beyond History Blog

Daylight Savings and Time Zones

Andrea Bentschneider - 03. November 2015 - General, Historical Events, Knowledge

When Daylight Savings make you reconsider time, questions arise. How did today’s time zones get defined?

The sun takes 24 hours to circle around the 360 degrees of the circumference of the earth, that is 15 degrees an hour, one degree of longitude in four minutes. Each line of longitude therefore has its own timezone that bases on the position of the sun. And this is exactly how it worked until less than 140 years ago: The result was that every location had their own time, and the time difference between Cologne and Berlin for example was 26 minutes. Today, this seems unthinkable!

With the establishment and expansion of railroad traffic, and increasing mobility, the time difference became a problem. For the setting of timetables, a standardized time zone system was necessary. That is why as early as 1848, Prussian trains all went by Berlin time.

In North America, too, railroad traffic throughout the continent made reforms necessary and so from 1883, the use of time zones that differed in hours and used the Greenwich meridian as a reference, were used. The Greenwich meridian thus became the international reference meridian officially in 1884.

In 1891, German and Austrian-Hungarian railroad companies introduced timetables set in Middle European Time. This time zone was set by law for the whole German Empire on April 1st of 1893.

Right, so if you’re travelling from Berlin to Cologne today by train, and you feel like someone stole your time, it is no more due to the time difference, but to the delays of the Deutsche Bahn.

By the way: Daylight Saving Time in Germany was first introduced in 1916. The model of seasonal clock change had already been proposed in Great Britain and New Zealand in 1895, but the legislative authorities took their time which made Germany, together with Austria-Hungary, the first country to establish Daylight Savings. The decree was as follows: “May 1st 1916 will begin on April 30th 1916 at 11 o’clock in the afternoon after current time. September 30th 1916 will end one hour after midnight in accordance with this decree.”

The reason Daylight Savings was introduced, the saving of energy, is highly controversial today.

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