Meet Saratogian Charles Ferdinand Dowd, Inventor of Standard Time

The 19th-century Saratoga resident came up with the concept for time zones.

In 1870, Dowd proposed what are now known as time zones.

Ever start to call a friend in California, only to remember it was way too early in the morning for them to answer? The system that makes the West Coast officially three hours behind the East Coast was invented by a Saratogian. A Popular Astronomy article from 1942, aptly titled “The Inventor of Standard Time,” tells the story of Charles Ferdinand Dowd, a Saratogian and the man many experts have come to agree was the first to propose the time system used by the entirety of planet Earth’s inhabitants.

It all started with the construction of America’s nationwide railroad system, which didn’t work so smoothly in the beginning since each station operated on its own local time. In 1870, Dowd, who was the coprincipal of the Temple Grove Seminary in Saratoga Springs, conceived of a plan in which the US was broken up into four “hour sections,” each of which would span 15 degrees of longitude. Eventually, his plan was adopted in 1883.

Dowd wasted no time in going to work toward developing an international Standard Time system but, during his research, his life was cut short when he was hit by a train. Tragically, his time had come.         

Natalie Moore

Natalie Moore is the director of content at Saratoga Living and Capital Region Living.


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