90th meridian

Reedsburg is located directly on the 90th meridian, which means that clocks here are exactly in sync with the sun overhead. A pink quartzite marker on the Main Street boulevard reads “325 FEET EAST OF THIS POINT LIES THE 90TH MERIDIAN.” The marker was dedicated on Oct. 14, 1963, to designate Reedsburg's unique position in the state. It was donated by Whitney Memorials and erected by the Kiwanis.

On Oct. 14, 1963, a marker was dedicated to designate Reedsburg’s unique position in the state. The city is located directly on the 90th meridian, which means that clocks there are exactly in sync with the sun overhead.

The time, as reckoned by the sun, varies to the east and west of Reedsburg by one minute for every 13 miles of distance. If Wisconsin did not have Central Standard Time, each town and village going westward or eastward could theoretically set their clocks to a different time. Local time would be based on the moment the sun was straight overhead at high noon. For example, if it was noon in Reedsburg, 13 miles east in Baraboo as the crow flies, the actual sun time would be 12:01. And this would continue as one traveled further east for every 13 miles. Until 1883, the above scenario was indeed, fact. Railroads used their own method of reckoning time, and it seldom corresponded with the clocks in the towns on their routes. Passengers often missed their connections because of this disparity in time. As travelers and railroad trains proceeded westward, they would have to constantly readjust their timepieces to correspond with the times in the towns through which they passed. A most inconvenient process.

As the nation became more sophisticated and mobile, the powers in Washington decided it was time to untangle this mess. An intonational conference was called and it was decided that since for every 15 degrees the sun travels west, there is exactly one hour’s difference in time, the world would be divided into time zones each one hour wide. That is why we have four time zones in the continental United States. These zones fall on the 75th, 90th, and 120th meridians of longitude east.

There are actually nine time zones in the United States and its territories. From east to west they are Atlantic Standard Time, Eastern Standard Time, Central Standard Time, Mountain Standard Time, Pacific Standard Time, Alaskan Standard Time, Hawaii-Aleutian Standard Time, Samoa Standard Time and Chamorro Standard Time, which includes Guam.

Russia, at one time, had 11 time zones extending across the country. However, in 2010 it reduced that to nine zones, “to better coordinate their business and political activities with the rest of the country,” noted one Russian official.

Daylight Savings time was initially established in the United States in 1918, in an effort to conserve energy, as was the stated reason for doing so at the time. But that was repealed two years later over the veto of President Woodrow Wilson, but remained optional for any states or municipalities which voted to continue resetting their time pieces.

During World War II, President XXX Roosevelt again instituted year-round daylight-savings time, then known as War Time, for the duration of the war, to help conserve fuel for the war effort.

Finally, in 1966, the Uniform Time Act was passed, which created a national daylight-savings standard from April to November. States could opt out if they so desired. Arizona, Hawaii, Porto Rico, Virgin Islands, Guam and American Samoa chose to do so. Seventy-eight other countries in the world also readjust their clocks.

The pink quartzite marker on the East Main Street boulevard reads, “325 FEET EAST OF THIS POINT LIES THE 90th MERIDIAN.” The marker was donated by Whitney Memorials and erected by the Kiwanis.

So, if you are in Reedsburg and standing near the quartzite rock which marks the 90th meridian, when the clock strikes high noon, you can be assured that it is exactly 12 o’clock.

Bill Schuette has served on the board of directors at the Sauk County Historical Society since 1993. He lives in rural Loganville.