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Hagerty Employee

High noon: For North American railroads in 1883, it was about time

As many of us in the U.S. pack up the family and head to Thanksgiving gatherings next week, some folks traveling longer distances may be forced to reset their watches as they cross into another time zone. Ever wonder how that all started? We can thank the railroads.

Establishing standard time zones was only part of the solution. The role of Webb C. Ball in establishing standards for railroad watches, so conductors and engineers would know accurate time (and thereby avoid head-on collisions with other trains on the same track) was essential for railroad safety. I have a vintage Ball Railroad Standard pocket watch made by Waltham in 1911 that keeps very good time.