Previous to 1883 the methods of measuring time in the United States were so varied and so numerous as to be ludicrous. There were 50 different standards used in the United States, and on one road between New York and Boston, whose actual difference is 12 minutes, there were three distinct standards of time. Even small towns had two different standards one known as "town" or local time and the other "railroad" time.
... At noon on November 18, 1883, there was a general resetting of watches and clocks all over the United States and Canada, and the four great time zones, one hour apart, into which the country was divided came into being. So smoothly did the plan work that the general readjustment was accomplished without great difficulty and it has worked satisfactorily ever since. ["Railroad Trainman," 1909]