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Most of the time zones on land are offset from Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) by a whole number of hours (UTC−12 to UTC 14), but a few zones are offset by 30 or 45 minutes (e.g.

Many land time zones are skewed toward the west of the corresponding nautical time zones.The borders of its time zones ran through railroad stations, often in major cities.For example, the border between its Eastern and Central time zones ran through Detroit, Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Atlanta, and Charleston.It was based on the longitude Timekeeping on the American railroads in the mid-19th century was somewhat confused.Each railroad used its own standard time, usually based on the local time of its headquarters or most important terminus, and the railroad's train schedules were published using its own time.When well-regulated mechanical clocks became widespread in the early 19th century, each city began to use some local mean solar time.

Apparent and mean solar time can differ by up to around 15 minutes (as described by the equation of time) because of the elliptical shape of the Earth's orbit around the Sun (eccentricity) and the tilt of the Earth's axis (obliquity).This also creates a permanent daylight saving time effect.Before clocks were first invented, it was common practice to mark the time of day with apparent solar time (also called "true" solar time) – for example, the time on a sundial – which was typically different for every location and dependent on longitude.Some junctions served by several railroads had a clock for each railroad, each showing a different time. Dowd proposed a system of one-hour standard time zones for American railroads about 1863, although he published nothing on the matter at that time and did not consult railroad officials until 1869.In 1870 he proposed four ideal time zones (having north–south borders), the first centered on Washington, D.The problem of differing local times could be solved across larger areas by synchronizing clocks worldwide, but in many places that adopted time would then differ markedly from the solar time to which people were accustomed.