Why are There Different Time Zones?

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum

The concept of having a time zone comes from a basic desire to always have the local time correspond to the amount of daylight that is available. Most people tend to think of the middle of the day, or high noon, as being the time at which the sun is at the highest point in the sky. Obviously, the perception of this state would be different at various points around the world, and the sun would appear to be at its highest point at a different time of day in Europe than it would appear to be front and center in the United States. Setting time zones helps to accommodate this desire.

Time zones ensure that the sun appears at its zenith in every part of the world.
Time zones ensure that the sun appears at its zenith in every part of the world.

Time zones are configured based on using an agreed upon starting point, known as the prime meridian. It has been referred to as Greenwich Mean Time, universal time, or Greenwich Meridian time. Since GMT is point zero for calculating times, all time zones are understood as being a certain number of hours ahead or behind this universal time. Taking this as the basic standard, the zones established in 15° slices all around the world. The use of 15° as an acceptable standard was first developed in the late 19th century, and remains the basis for the 24 divisions that currently exist around the world.

Sculpture on the Prime Meridian, near the Greenwich Observatory.
Sculpture on the Prime Meridian, near the Greenwich Observatory.

An interesting fact is that, while the starting point for fixing the arrangement of time zones remains the same, the actual facility that once resided at the median time location is no longer there. During the 1950s, the famed Greenwich observatory, the starting place for the concept, was moved to Sussex, England. The original site is still considered to be the prime meridian.

A global map, including time zone divisions.
A global map, including time zone divisions.

While some time zones do experience a slight shift in the spring and autumn of the year, their process and function remains the same. In a world where interaction with distant locations has become a daily occurrence, that function has become even more important to establishing communications for both business and pleasure.

There are 24 different divisions of time zones around the world.
There are 24 different divisions of time zones around the world.
Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum

After many years in the teleconferencing industry, Michael decided to embrace his passion for trivia, research, and writing by becoming a full-time freelance writer. Since then, he has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including wiseGEEK, and his work has also appeared in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and several newspapers. Malcolm’s other interests include collecting vinyl records, minor league baseball, and cycling.

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Discussion Comments


I am wondering if there are place sin the world that do not necessarily recognize time zones and if so where are they?

I would think that there are places in the world that do not have a standardization of time and if this were the case I am guessing that they do not utilize the invention of time zones.

I know that in some islands in the South Pacific some tribes do not even know what year it is! This places may seem odd to some, but I know for a fact that they do not concern themselves as much with time as they do going about their simple lives.

Anyway, if anyone knows any specific instances or groups of people that do not recognize or utilize time zones I would like to know what they are.


@kentuckycat - That is a very interesting story as far as the formation of time zones is concerned.

One thing that I find very interesting about time zones is that the time changes do not necessarily have anything to do with regards to adjusting to the amount of daylight in the area.

I live in the Central Time Zone in Eastern Illinois and over here, say on July 4th, the sun does not go down until about a quarter after 9. However, just a few miles away in Indiana, which is in the Eastern Time Zone, the sun goes down there after 10 o'clock.

I find this to be very interesting and am wondering if there are other discrepancies like this across the world, that may be far worse than that of where I live?


@jmc88 - I have heard the exact same thing and know that before time zones that the time simply corresponded to the town clock and it could be off a couple minutes in comparison to other towns.

I know that the reason for town clocks was to standardize time within the city limits and for everyone to have something to set their watches to.

As far as the story I heard about the railroads and the development of time zones, I have heard that a guy missed his train to a place in California because his town clock was two minutes behind the clock in the town the train station was at, which was normal. Because he missed his train he sought to develop a way for all the trains to run on the same time, so everyone would have a fair chance at catching the train.

This idea later caught on and became what we know today as time zones, which standardize time across the world.


I have heard that there are different types of time zones simply because of the fact that there was not a standard measurement of time and people that needed to be on exact time would miss trains.

The United States in the mid to late 1800's had developed a very elaborate and complex railway system that became a necessity in regards from getting place to place over more than a walking distance, and became something people had to rely heavily upon.

I have heard that the reason for time zones was simply to make sure all the trains ran on the same time and to make sure people did not miss the trains and I was wondering if there was any truth to this?


Having so many different times zones is too confusing! t should be the same time world wide. if it's daylight in one place and dark in another at, for example 3 p.m., people would get used to it.


It is obvious. They have multiple time zones because it wouldn't make sense if its 2:00 am in America and dark out and in russia at 2:00 am (assuming no time zones) would be in daylight. It was made to help organize days.

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