At precisely high noon, on November 18, 1883, the railroad system introduced America to its four new zones: Eastern, Central, Mountain, and Pacific; until then, villages, towns, and cities from coast to coast, counted on the sun to set their clocks, and based time on local estimates. People started their day at sunrise, assembled for meals, pushed through chores, and retired at dusk.
But the railroads required a reliable standard to maintain uniform timetables; prior to the decree, arrivals and departures confused travelers, and created chaos for commerce.
The change was embraced enthusiastically, but it wasn’t until 1918 that Congress passed the Standard Time Act, which transferred oversight of the time zone boundaries to the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC). In 1966, the authority was re-assigned to the Department of Transportation.
For more information, the Grateful American Book Prize recommends The Great Railroad Revolution: The History of Trains in America by Christian Wolmar.
On September 3, 1783, the Treaty of Paris ended the Revolutionary War, but it took the British nearly three months to complete their retreat. The last of the troops departed New York on November 25th—which coincidentally–was Thanksgiving, giving the former colonists-turned-Americans, another reason to gloat.
American System Now, a history website, published an article that included an excerpt from “a woman who had witnessed” the celebrations that day–as a girl. She wrote: “We had been accustomed for a long time to military display in all the finish and finery of garrison life; the troops just leaving us were as if equipped for show, and with their scarlet uniforms and burnished arms, made a brilliant display; the troops that marched in, on the contrary, were ill-clad and weather beaten, and made a forlorn appearance; but then they were our troops, and as I looked at them and thought upon all they had done and suffered for us, my heart and my eyes were full, and I admired and gloried in them the more, because they were weather beaten and forlorn.”
The Grateful American Book Prize recommends My Brother Sam Is Dead by James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collier.
President Lyndon Johnson renamed Cape Canaveral in honor of the late John F. Kennedy on November 28, 1963, five days after his assassination. Two years earlier, President Kennedy had dared America’s rocket scientists to put a man on the moon within a decade—and it was accomplished, triumphantly–on July 20, 1969, when Astronaut Neil Armstrong landed–and walked–on the moon.
The Cape’s role in America’s efforts to conquer space–or what Star Trek fans call “The Last Frontier,” was begun in 1947, when it became a missile testing range. The plan was to put a satellite in orbit to sync with the 1957-1958 International Geophysical Year celebrations. But according to Space.com, “the Army ended up sending the first U.S. satellite, Explorer 1, into space on Jan. 31, 1958, on a modified Jupiter-C rocket called Juno 1”.
Meanwhile, in 1971, Cape Kennedy reverted to its original name, Cape Canaveral, but the main attraction remained the “Kennedy Space Center”.
For more information, the Grateful American Book Prize recommends Moonport: A History of Apollo Launch Facilities and Operations by Charles D. Benson and William Faherty.
History Matters is a biweekly feature courtesy of The Grateful American Book Prize.
Published on November 13, 2020