Time zones are demarcations of solar hours (15 degrees) on the planet (a few are offset by 30 or 45 minutes) used by many nations. Solar noon moves closer on average (depending on the month and day) to 12:01pm the nearer to one is to the beginning of the zone. Has anyone in modern United States history (post-GMT and world wide time zones) seriously proposed an alternative system of time zone management than the hour (for instance moving to the half hour)?

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    The Olson (now IANA) Time Zone database is a font of historical information about time zones. It tracks every change to every time zone ever and is full of historical commentary. Download the tzdata file and start poking around!
    – Schwern
    Feb 10, 2015 at 1:07
  • @Schwern I assume that is only for the actually approved and implemented changes, not for the proposals, right?
    – o0'.
    Feb 10, 2015 at 9:15
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    @Lohoris The data is, but the files are full of commentary which contain a lot of historical chatter and URLs to further reading.
    – Schwern
    Feb 10, 2015 at 18:49
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    "Solar noon moves closer on average to 12:01pm the nearer to one is to the beginning of the zone." This is not true, not even for most time zones. It assumes time zones are orderly north-south stripes which if you look at the maps in my answer is very much not the case. More often than not, the zone syncs with the Sun in the middle. More often than it should be, alignment with the Sun is nowhere to be found in the zone.
    – Schwern
    Feb 10, 2015 at 18:52

4 Answers 4


Interestingly, when the time zones were established at the International Meridian Conference in 1884, the original idea was to have a single coordinated solar day. This meant that eventually, the hope was to have a single coordinated time throughout the world. The idea of dividing the world into time zones was merely supposed to be a step to getting to precisely that point.

Unfortunately, the resolution adopted had within it the seeds of its failure to take that final step. The single coordinated meridian was to be selected without interference in the local observation of solar time and "without regard to politics but only to scientific progress."

As you might expect, the "art of the possible" never was able to go that far.


None that were taken seriously. Why? Because modern life isn't so linked to the Sun that you can't be an hour off, and because more time zones mean more people having to live and work across those borders every day. It is so disorienting that some places have changed their time zone to be the same as whomever they do the most business with. This (partly) explains the mess that is Indiana. Chicago is so important that the six nearby counties in Indiana switched to its time zone. The nation of Kiribati was, until recently, split by the International Date Line, now it swings waaaay out east to UTC+14. Samoa switched sides of the IDL to have five shared work days with Australia and New Zealand, their biggest trading partners.

Time zones have only a vague relation with the position of the Sun anyway. You can see things like China being like "EVERY TIME IS BEIJING TIME!", and Alaska is like "JUNEAU TIME FOR EVERYONE, nobody lives up there anyway", and I don't even know what's going on in Russia.

"World Time Zones Map" by TimeZonesBoy. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

Here's a great map of how far off a given time zone is.

Deviation from solar time

According to the IANA nee Olson Time Zone Database, the only non-hour time zone in the US after the Standard Time Act of 1918 was Hawaii who used -10:30 from 1896 to 1947.

# From Arthur David Olson (2010-12-09):
# "Hawaiian Time" by Robert C. Schmitt and Doak C. Cox appears on pages 207-225
# of volume 26 of The Hawaiian Journal of History (1992). As of 2010-12-09,
# the article is available at
# http://evols.library.manoa.hawaii.edu/bitstream/10524/239/2/JL26215.pdf
# and indicates that standard time was adopted effective noon, January
# 13, 1896 (page 218), that in "1933, the Legislature decreed daylight
# saving for the period between the last Sunday of each April and the
# last Sunday of each September, but less than a month later repealed the
# act," (page 220), that year-round daylight saving time was in effect
# from 1942-02-09 to 1945-09-30 (page 221, with no time of day given for
# when clocks changed) and that clocks were changed by 30 minutes
# effective the second Sunday of June, 1947 (page 219, with no time of
# day given for when clocks changed). A footnote for the 1933 changes
# cites Session Laws of Hawaii 1933, "Act. 90 (approved 26 Apr. 1933)
# and Act 163 (approved 21 May 1933)."

Meanwhile in Canada, St Johns and Goose Bay were -3:30:52 until 1935 when it became 3:30. Goose Bay changed to -4:00 1966, but St Johns stayed at -3:30.

Santo Domingo was -4:40 until 1933 when it switched to -5:00, then -4:00 in 1974, then back to -5:00 in 2000 and back to -4:00 a few months later because they were going to do whatever Puerto Rico did, and then Puerto Rico didn't.

# From Steffen Thorsen (2000-10-30):
# Enrique Morales reported to me that the Dominican Republic has changed the
# time zone to Eastern Standard Time as of Sunday 29 at 2 am....
# http://www.listin.com.do/antes/261000/republica/princi.html

# From Paul Eggert (2000-12-04):
# That URL (2000-10-26, in Spanish) says they planned to use US-style DST.

# From Rives McDow (2000-12-01):
# Dominican Republic changed its mind and presidential decree on Tuesday,
# November 28, 2000, with a new decree.  On Sunday, December 3 at 1:00 AM the
# Dominican Republic will be reverting to 8 hours from the International Date
# Line, and will not be using DST in the foreseeable future.  The reason they
# decided to use DST was to be in synch with Puerto Rico, who was also going
# to implement DST.  When Puerto Rico didn't implement DST, the president
# decided to revert.

Nowhere in the USA does that, however there is one place in North America (sorta) that does: Newfoundland.

They happened to be about 3 and a half hours from Greenwich when the time zones were first set up, and being persnickety people, opted to keep their own time rather than join the Atlantic or central Greenland time zones.


Assuming that Swatch sells their plastic watches also in the U.S., there is their notion of Swatch Internet Time (beat time): The notion has not become popular in Europe or even Switzerland (where the company originates) so far, but insofar as this is a serious, globally acting company, their (marketing-driven) attempt can (perhaps) be counted as a (somewhat) serious alternative system. The reference meridian is fixed at at Jakob-Staempfli Street, Biel, Switzerland.

I'm posting this @ 288 beats, BTW :)

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