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Past Tense

Opinion: When Georgia had two time zones

past tense - georgia time zones

Old map at the Hapeville Depot Museum and Visitor Center shows the line separating the eastern third of Georgia into the Central Time Zone.

I came across two maps of Georgia recently that took me by surprise, because they showed Georgia split between Eastern and Central time zones. One map is held at the Hapeville Depot Museum and Visitor Center in Hapeville, and the other appeared in the 1931 Atlanta Constitution. The city of Atlanta was in the Central time zone.

As construction of railroads took place across the country in the 1800s, there was a need for schedules for these railroads. Long distance travel was possible. In the early days of railroad, the time at each stop along the railroad was dependent on the town. The Eastern, Central, Mountain, and Pacific time zones were first established on Nov. 18, 1883.

One year later, more than two dozen nations met in Washington D. C. for the International Meridian Conference. The zero point of longitude was chosen as the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, England.

Time zones did not become official across the United States until the Standard Time Zone Act of 1918. The line between Eastern and Central time zones divided Georgia, with approximately one-third of the state falling in the Central Time Zone. This caused confusion for Georgia railroads and Georgia businesses.

Leaders from the Atlanta Chamber of Commerce met on Nov. 23, 1918 to discuss whether Atlanta should remain in the Central time zone or be entirely in the Eastern time zone. Notes from the meeting are held in the Atlanta History Center archives. Those in attendance included Morris Rich, B. Davison, H.P. Hermance, Samuel C. Dobbs, Ivan Allen and D.H. Strauss. 

The two time zones were discussed and debated until 1941, when Gov. Eugene Talmadge pushed for all of Georgia to be in the Eastern Time Zone. The Interstate Commerce Commission, which regulated transportation carriers, pushed back on the change. Talmadge signed Eastern time for all of Georgia into law at 11:35 a.m., March 21, 1941 (Atlanta Constitution, March 22, 1941, “Third of Georgia Sets Clocks to New Time”).

However, railroads, airlines and bus lines continued to operate using two time zones while waiting for approval by the Interstate Commerce Commission. In June 1941, the Interstate Commerce Division worked out an agreement with the state for all railroads to run on Eastern time. 

On March 22, the Atlanta newspapers featured photos of various clocks being changed throughout the city. Mayor Roy LeCraw changed the clock at City Hall. Clocks at the Georgia Capitol were changed.

Dr. Thornwell Jacobs, president of Oglethorpe University announced the time change would take effect before classes started on Monday March 24, 1941. W.M. Rainey, superintendent of DeKalb County Schools announced school would start one hour later following the time change; 9 a.m. rather than 8 a.m.

Retail merchants and banks changed their clocks the following morning after Talmadge signed the law. The Atlanta Constitution declared, “It’s the same time all over Georgia now.”

You can email Valerie at pasttensega@gmail.com or visit her website at pasttensega.com.

You can email Valerie at pasttensega@gmail.com or visit her website at pasttensega.com.