Matthew Alice: When did we start using time zones, and before time had a phone number, how did we know what time it was? — Jamie, El Cajon
Since 1883 the world has had 24 time zones set by international agreement to solve the problem of everybody being late for appointments all over the globe. Before 1883, in the U.S. and some other countries, railroads decided a town’s official time, and the whole system was a confusing mess. An observatory in Greenwich, England, is in charge of keeping track of the official time around the globe, and they spread the word via radio transmissions. If you have a shortwave radio, you can tune it in on several different frequencies. It’s called Universal Coordinated Time. But before you could dial up the time lady, you’d probably stick your head out of a window of your thatched hovel and look at the clock tower in the town square. That where the town’s clock was, and it told the “official” time in most cities for many centuries. Not that people back then had much need to know what time it was. When you work from sunup to sundown, you don’t have much use for a Swatch.