The invention of international time zones

Sanford Fleming (1827-1915)

When Sanford Fleming emigrated in 1845 from Scotland, he was 18 years old. The Canadian railway was a total of 16 miles long, and even the most established centers lacked adequate maps; every outpost, city, town, and village told time by the rising sun, making travel a scheduling nightmare. Because, traveling from settlement to settlement was difficult, the vast wealth of Upper Canada's natural resources was totally unknown. Sanford Fleming, who, from 1867 until he retired in 1880, was chief engineer for the dominion government, was regarded as Canada's foremost railway engineer. By the time he was 70 years old, he had surveyed the country from Ottawa to Vancouver and helped to build thousands of miles of railway track. While working for the railway, he created the worldwide system of Standard Time, in part to ensure that trains, that were crisscrossed the country, could properly schedule track use and avoid head-on collisions.

Based on Sanford Fleming's ideas, delegates from 27 nations met in Washington, DC, in 1884 and agreed on a system which is basically the same as the one which is still in use. Standard Time uses Greenwich, a borough of London, England as the zero degree meridian, or "Prime Meridian', and divides the world into 24 zones, from pole to pole. Time is uniform throughout each zone, and differs from the international basis of legal and scientific time, called "Coordinated Universal Time" (UTC), by a set number of hours. In a few regions, however, the legal time kept is not the same as one of the 24 standard time zones because half-hour or quarter-hour differences are in effect there.

Canada, for example, is comprised of six zones (from west to east): Pacific Standard Time, Mountain Standard Time, Central Standard Time, Eastern Standard Time, Atlantic Standard Time, and Newfoundland Standard Time. The boundaries of each zone are not strictly defined on the basis of size, but each zone is approximately 15 degrees apart. Boundaries vary somewhat to conform to local geographical and political regions. In addition, if daylight saving time is in effect, one hour less must be subtracted for locations west of Greenwich and one hour more, added for areas east of Greenwich.


1. An "engineer":

  • a) designs and builds things
  • b) drives a truck
  • c) grows plants
  • d) puts out fires

2. An "outpost" is:

  • a) a telephone pole
  • b) a wired cage
  • c) a hearing aid
  • d) a remote settlement

3. Sanford Fleming was born in:

  • a) 1767
  • b) 1827
  • c) 1867
  • d) 1937

4. Canada has:

  • a) 2
  • b) 4
  • c) 6
  • d) 8 time zones

5. "Greenwich" is the:

  • a) Neutral Meridian
  • b) Initial Zone
  • c) Prime Meridian
  • d) Center of Time

6. Each zone is:

  • a) 3
  • b) 7
  • c) 15
  • d) 30 degrees wide

7. Sir Sanford Fleming invented:

  • a) steam-engine locomotives
  • b) the world-wide system of Standard Time
  • c) railway tracks
  • d) penicillin

1.(a) 2.(d) 3.(b)  4.(c) 5.(c) 6.(c) 7.(b)