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Published: Tuesday, 4/8/2003

Toledo remained behind the time for decades

Most of us in the Toledo area moved our clocks an hour ahead over the weekend without any major hassles.

Some early risers drove to work in the dark yesterday. Some kids waited for a school bus before full daylight. And, as usual, farmers' hens refused to lay their eggs on daylight-saving time.

But many times in the last 120 years, Toledoans have been at odds with Ohio and the nation on the issue of time. It took many months - perhaps even years - for Toledo to accept standard time when it was introduced nationwide in 1883. And it took half a century for Toledoans to come to grips with daylight-saving time after its first use in 1918. At least twice, they voted overwhelmingly to junk daylight time.

Time and again, Toledoans have voiced their confusion, dissension, and even revolt over the time of day.

Toledo has been a major rail center since the 1830s, and by 1883, 28 different rail lines crisscrossed the city, which had a population of about 70,000. But the railroads had a tough time keeping accurate schedules, because each community had its own local time - usually “sun time” reckoned from high noon. The sun crosses the United States at about 1,000 miles per hour, so “local time” was just that - cities in Illinois, for example, had their clocks set on 27 times.

The railroads agreed that on Sunday, Nov. 18, 1883, trains would run on standard time, divided into the four zones that still cover the 48 contiguous United States - Eastern, Central, Mountain, and Pacific. The U.S. Congress didn't make them official until 1918, but never mind, the railroads made them official in 1883. And, in those days Toledo was assigned to the Central time zone and Cleveland was in the Eastern zone (Toledo entered the Eastern zone in 1927).

The Blade reported that at noon, sun time, on that momentous day, a crowd gathered at the rail depot to watch clerks turn clocks back 28 minutes. Toledo's sun time ran 28 minutes fast, Cleveland's was 33 minutes fast, and Cincinnati clocks were 22 minutes ahead of standard time. That Sunday came to be known as “the day of two noons.”

So far, so good. Except that most Toledoans refused to reset their clocks. “The general opinion prevails that the old time was good enough and why not let it alone,” The Blade dutifully reported. Nearly a year later, the city's “official” clock, at the high school, still showed sun time.

The Blade also reported that some businesses kept two clocks - one displaying railroad time, the other sun time (or, as some called it, “God's time”).

Daylight-saving time proved even more contentious.

The first suggestion of daylight-saving time is attributed to Ben Franklin. It is said that Franklin, then ambassador to France, noticed in 1784 that many Parisians slept well beyond sunrise.

Others dabbled with the idea, but World War I gave daylight time a practical purpose. It was adopted first by Germany, then by Britain, and finally by the United States, on the theory that more sunlight during normal waking hours would reduce the need for electric lighting and would free up energy for wartime production.

In 1921, Toledo voters made their displeasure with daylight time known. Only about 9,000 voted for Central Daylight Saving Time; 17,000 voted for Central Standard Time, and 32,000 opted for Eastern Standard Time. But Toledo was not officially in the Eastern zone, so that meant it was, in effect, on daylight time all year.

In 1942, in the early days of World War II, President Roosevelt signed legislation mandating “war time” (essentially daylight time) for the entire nation, and Toledo city council went along and rescinded the 1921 measure. For the next four years, Toledo and some other large Ohio cities were on “fast time” even though the state stubbornly remained officially on standard time.

After the war, when Toledo voters got another chance in 1948, they again gave daylight time the boot - 64,000 to 38,000. Toledo remained without daylight time until the mid-1960s.

Congress put an end to the nonsense by passing the Time Uniformity Act of 1966, which required nearly all states to adopt daylight-saving time in April and to revert to standard time in October. (It was amended in 1986 to adopt the current methodology: spring forward an hour the first Sunday in April, fall backward an hour on the last Sunday in October.)

However, states were allowed to exempt themselves from daylight time. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Michigan remained on standard time while Ohio went for daylight time - creating hassles for workers and merchants on both sides of the border.

Indiana is still a holdout for year-round standard time - for its 76 counties that lie in the Eastern time zone. People who live in Ohio and work in Indiana, or vice versa, keep the same time at home and at work five months a year but different times the other seven months.

Despite disagreements in the last 120 years, Toledoans ended up on time after all - on New York time, Washington time, Pittsburgh time, Miami time.

That's only just and fair. Who would turn on the TV at 1:28 on a Sunday afternoon and expect to catch the start of the Browns or Lions game? Who would click on the Internet at 9:58 a.m. and expect to see how stocks look at the opening bell of the New York Stock Exchange? Now if the chickens could learn to tell time, everything would be all right.



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