Lewis Carroll, the author of Alice in Wonderland, had a lifelong obsession with a paradox involving time zones. His 1850 article "A Hemispherical Problem" describes it well:

Half of the world, or nearly so, is always in the light of the sun: as the world turns round, this hemisphere of light shifts round too, and passes over each part of it in succession.

Supposing on Tuesday, it is morning at London; in another hour it would be Tuesday morning at the west of England; if the whole world were land we might go on tracing1 Tuesday morning, Tuesday morning all the way round, till in twenty-four hours we get to London again. But we know that at London twenty-four hours after Tuesday morning it is Wednesday morning. Where, then, in its passage round the earth, does the day change its name? Where does it lose its identity?

Practically there is no difficulty in it, because a great part of the journey is over water, and what it does out at sea no one can tell: and besides there are so many different languages that it would be hoeless to attempt to trace the naem of any one day all the year round. But is the case inconceivable that the same land and the same language should continue all round the world? I cannot see that it is: in that case either there would be no distinction at all between each successive day, and so week, month, etc., so that we should have to say, "the Battle of Waterloo happened to-day, about two million hours ago," or some line would have to be fixed where the change should take palce, so that the inhabitants of one house would wake and say, "Heigh-ho, Tuesday morning!" and the inhabitants of the next (over the line), a few miles to the west would wake a few minutes afterwards and say, "Heigh-ho! Wednesday morning!" What hopeless confusion the people who happened to live on the line would be in, is not for me to say. There would be a quarrel every morning as to what the name of the day should be. I can imagine no third case, unless everybody was allowed to choose for themselves, which state of things would be rather worse than either of the other two.

I've even seen detailed hand-written notes by Lewis Carroll recording what time it would be in various cities around the world in an attempt to solve the problem.

In any case, nowadays the issue no longer arises, because we have the International Dateline, a de facto line going roughly through the 180 degree meridian (with many deviations) and it works exactly as Lewis Caroll describes in bold above: when people on one side of it wake up to Tuesday morning, and an hour later people on the other side of it wake up to Wednesday morning.

But when Lewis Caroll was writing, the the International Dateline didn't exist yet. So my question is, what was the situation before the concept of the International Dateline? Was there any place in the world where it was Tuesday morning in one location and Wednesday morning a short distance from it?

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    Prior to the Prime Meridian and the IDL, all time was local. Time was kept based on sunrise, sunset and noon. The people one island over may not be intelligent enough to speak our language, but even they understand that if the sun is overhead, it is noon today, not noon yesterday or noon tomorrow.
    – MCW
    Commented Sep 13, 2016 at 18:06
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    @MarkC.Wallace OK, but long before the international dateline (which is relatively recent), there was still the concept of days of the week. So it is still a meaningful question to ask, when it is noon on Tuesday in one place, what day of the week do people in other places in the world think it is. Commented Sep 13, 2016 at 20:23
  • You ask: Was there any place in the world where it was Tuesday morning in one location and Wednesday morning a short distance from it? Yes, that is exactly the position as it obtains today. Take the case of Samoa and American Samoa, neighbouring islands on different sides of the IDL. When it is Wednesday morning in Samoa, it is Tuesday morning (24 hours earlier) in American Samoa.
    – WS2
    Commented Sep 13, 2016 at 21:50
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    @WS2 Do you have any evidence that that time difference between Samoa and American Samoa existed before the International Dateline? Commented Sep 13, 2016 at 22:29
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    @DJohnM Thanks, this web page in that site answers my question: staff.science.uu.nl/~gent0113/idl/idl_philippines.htm If you want to post an answer based on the information on that web page, I'm happy to accept it. Commented Sep 14, 2016 at 1:18

1 Answer 1


The general concept of a date line preexists Caroll. By the 17th century possible locations for the line had been proposed See Here.

People living at the same general time also recognized the notion of a date line. In 1872, Jules Verne wrote Around The World In Eighty Days in which crossing the date line is a plot point. In 1888, this map was produced showing the international date line:

Date Line Map

There were places geographically nearby with different ideas of today. Until 1844, the Philippines were a day separated from Asia. This was due to being colonized by Spain through the Americas. In 1845 they skipped a day bringing them into line with Asia.

The International Meridian Conference in 1884 established a theoretical date line at 180 degrees. But the date line did not and does not follow this line strictly. This is not what we call the international date line.

So, the international date line already existed when Caroll was writing. The general idea had been proposed centuries earlier, and countries were changing the date line to fit their needs.

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    Note that that map is inaccurate in showing the Philippines on the eastern side of the dateline; as you correctly point out, they had flipped to the western side over forty years previously. Additionally, during the time period prior to 1845 when the Philippines were on the eastern side of the dateline, Alaska (then still a Russian possession), further north, was on the western side of the dateline (where it remained until sold to the United States in 1867), so the pre-1845 dateline was even crazier than that map makes it look.
    – Vikki
    Commented Jul 15, 2021 at 21:03

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