If you have ever traveled internationally, you’re probably familiar with the confusing effects of jetlag and the adaptation to a different time in another country. It’s weird to think that you can, quite literally, travel in time: if you’re leaving Paris or London and heading to Phoenix or San Francisco, you’ll arrive earlier than you’ve left. By contrast, if you’re flying to Tokyo or Vladivostok, you’re catching up with tomorrow, as Japan and Russia are eleven time zones ahead of Europe. Sounds crazy, right? However, time zones have been created for a wide variety of social, legal, and commercial reasons. Time zones were set to determine noon around the world; because of the Earth’s rotation, noon comes at different times in different places around the world. To keep track of time around the planet, countries adhere to certain time zones. Truth be told, it is very helpful for countries and people who do business together and who conduct all sorts of other activities together to keep the same time. Because of this fact, time zones usually follow the boundaries of countries or regions (although there are curious exceptions to this).
So what are time zones, how are they set, and how is time calculated around the world?
To make things simple, all time zones are defined by the Coordinated Universal Time (UTC), which is a time standard. However, most people don’t know exactly what a time zone is, and they may not know what UTC is, either. In fact, most people erroneously believe they are in the UTC time zone when they are really in the GMT time zone. It gets even more confusing knowing that the North and the South Poles have no time zones at all, and astronauts follow the GMT regardless of where they are… So let’s start at the beginning and explain what time zones are, what UTC is, and what it is used for, and then analyze the EST time zone which covers several countries and major cities in the Americas. And if you’re after some fun time zone facts, make sure to read the entire page – we’ve listed some weird and wonderful time zone facts at the bottom of the post.
UTC and UTC Offset: What Are They?
UTC stands for Coordinated Universal Time. It is the standard when it comes to measuring time around the world; originating from the GMT, or the Greenwich Mean Time, which used to be the only time standard measured at the Greenwich Meridian (0 longitude), UTC now defines the „zero hour“ time standard and is commonly mistaken for GMT which is a time zone rather than a time standard. It may sound confusing, but think of it this way: while both stand for the exact time at the zero longitude, UTC is the standard, and GMT is the time zone.
All time zones around the world are UTC plus or minus some time (usually one or more hours). Anything that is West from the zero longitude will have a minus offset, and anything that is East will have a plus offset.
EST, the Eastern Standard Time observed in the Americas, as an example, is UTC-05:00, while the time observed in Central Asia will be UTC+05:00.
This difference from UTC time is the UTC offset. In the case of the Eastern Standard Time zone, the time is 5 hours behind UTC time. The offset is usually one or more whole hours, but there are countries with offsets of 30 minutes (India, for example) and even 45 minutes (Nepal, for example).
And while there are many countries that are split between time zones (Russia spans over 12 of them), there are also countries that only observe one time zone despite spanning vast territories (China, for example). In other words, while most countries around the world observe time zones correlating to their geographical realities, sometimes time zone decisions can be purely political – or, in the case of France with numerous territories around the world, simply bizarre because of historical reasons.
Brief History of EST
Most western countries can’t imagine measuring the time without nowadays’ standards but did you know that EST was founded only several centuries ago?
For millions of years, people measured time by using natural resources such as the sun or moon. Both ancient people and those from the 18th century used to observe the sun every day in order to find out what time of the day it was. Consequently, the majority of people were well-aware of nature and its wonders. Specifically, when the sun was the highest in the sky, they could tell that it was noon. Obviously, they couldn’t calculate the exact time but it was enough to plan their day and make predictions about the following events.
However, the need for the development of more exact mechanisms for calculating time was becoming more and more necessary. As a result, in the Middle Ages, there were already some advancements. In fact, in the Middle Ages people used to calculate the time based on Sundials. It’s a device that can tell the exact time according to the apparent position of the sun in the sky. Sundials looked pretty much like today’s watches and soon, mechanical clocks began to develop. It was the time when cities started setting their two clocks based on the sun position and as a result, each city had its own time, which was a bit different from others. The time of this period was called Apparent Solar Time.
That’s how ancient people used to find out the time during the day. While many people find these methods still very interesting in today’s advanced world, no one argues that the development of worldwide time zones was an important step in the history of mankind.
Speaking of history: worldwide time zones were introduced in 1878 by Sandford Fleming, a Scottish – Canadian engineer, and inventor. Following Fleming’s proposal, the world was divided into 24 time zones. In 1883, railroad companies in the US began using Fleming’s time zones and eventually defined the Pacific, Mountain, Central, and Eastern Time zones in 1895.
Introduction of EST in the United States
The United States was one of the first nations who adapted to Eastern Standard Time. The country started using a standard time system on November 18, 1883. By this time, the majority of the largest railway systems switched to standard time. The new system involved four time zones: Eastern, Central, Mountain, and Pacific. The clocks were synchronized which made communication and the traveling process between various states easier. However, it was long before the railroad industry’s initiative would spread to the entire country. The new system of timezone still wasn’t official in the United States before creating the Standard Time Act in 1918.
The reason was that people couldn’t adapt to the changes so quickly and they continued using old times for years. But its benefits were becoming more and more obvious. Specifically, using EST was accompanied by plenty of advantages in the fields of travel and communication. In 1918 the country declared the official law with the Standard Time Act and the United States started adopting the time zones based on the recommendations of the railroads. The act also established daylight saving time.
Standard Time was quickly spread across the ocean and reached westward in 1938 since the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) introduced new principles of time-zone management from railroads. The states rapidly adapted to the new time standards and implemented them using EST. For instance, Kentucky added its counties to the Eastern Standard Time in the 1940s, and the process finished in 1961 when the entire state switched to EST.
Another important date for the introduction of EST in the United States is 1884 when the International Meridian Conference was held in Washington, D.C. It was the time when the delegates from various nations met and agreed upon choosing the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, England as the official prime meridian (“zero” point). According to their decision, traveling east from the prime meridian meant gaining an hour with each time zone, while traveling west meant moving backward by an hour. Today the great part of the United States and plenty of other countries accept Eastern Standard Time.
How Does EST Work Today?
The mechanism of Eastern Standard Time (EST) is pretty easy to understand, especially if you know the basic principles of time zones. As simple as that, there are 24 hours within a day and 360 degrees of longitude around the globe. If we divide this 360 degrees by 24 hours, we will get 15 degrees of longitude, equal to a one-hour difference between each time zone. Therefore, there are 24 time zones in total. Each of them is measured from a starting, “zero” point called the Greenwich Meridian because it’s located at England’s Greenwich Observatory. Time at this place is known as Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) or Universal Time.
Eastern Standard Time (EST) is GMT minus 5 hours. Therefore, when it’s noon in the Eastern time zone, it will be 5 p.m. in Greenwich. Eastern Standard Time spans from northern Canada to South Panama which is near the Equator. EST shares the border with Atlantic Standard Time (AST) in the east, while it’s surrounded by Central Standard Time (CST) in the west.
What Are Eastern Standard Time (EST) and Eastern Daylight Time (EDT)?
EST (Or Eastern Standard Time Zone) is UTC-5:00. In other words, the Eastern Standard Time zone has a UTC offset of minus 5 hours. This means that all regions in the Eastern Standard Time Zone are 5 hours behind Coordinated Universal Time. When it is 12 PM in London (which is in UTC), it is just 7 PM in Connecticut and Ontario.
Eastern Daylight Time (EDT) is just 4 hours behind Coordinated Universal Time (UTC-4:00) because it takes into account daylight saving time. Daylight saving time is observed during spring and summer. The states in the EST time zone move to the EDT time zone on the second Sunday of March. They transition back to EST on the first Sunday of November. This transition is aimed to add one hour of daylight during the warm seasons; a popular myth is that in the US, the Daylight Savings was introduced to help farmers grow more food, but in fact, the move was instead lobbied by urban dwellers and corporations hoping to extend working hours.
Territories in the Eastern Standard Time Zone
The Eastern Standard Time zone covers the eastern part of the United States, some parts of Canada, and a single state in Mexico: Quintana Roo. In addition, EST time is being used in Panama, part of the Amazon region (Brazil), Colombia, Ecuador, and the Caribbean Islands including Cuba. It may be funny to think the time is the same in Quito, Havana, New York, and Bogota, but this is because these major capitals are aligned vertically, which means that geographically, they all sit in the same time zone.
There are a total of 17 states that are entirely in the EST time zone in the United States. However, be aware that some of these states observe Daylight Saving Time, so they will transition to the EDT time zone during the summer months. They will return to EST time on the second Sunday of March, at 2 AM, however. Here are the states that are encompassed by the EST zone in the US:
- New York
- West Virginia
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- South Carolina
- North Carolina
- Rhode Island
Additionally, in the United States, there are 5 states that are split between the Eastern Time Zone and Central Standard Time (CST): Indiana, Tennessee, Florida, Kentucky, and Michigan. Interestingly, the time zone definitions in the US were initiated by railroad companies, but when the Interstate Commerce Commission took over time zone management in 1938, the boundaries of the Eastern Time Zone have moved West. Once again, commercial and social factors conquered geography.
In Canada, there are just three territories that are partly in the EST time zone: Quebec, Ontario, and Nunavut. It is also important to note that these provinces observe Daylight Saving Time in sync with the US, even though there are some very minor exceptions.
The EST Time Zone Major Cities in EST Time Zone
Because the EST time zone covers so much of the United States, there are dozens of major cities in the EST time zone in the US. In fact, most people think about the United States when they hear EST time. And they are not wrong to do so: notable examples of large cities in the US include New York City, Washington D.C., Philadelphia, Florida, New Jersey, Atlanta, Baltimore, Buffalo, and Cleveland. Other major cities in the EST time zone are Ontario, Quebec, Guayaquil, Hamilton, Bogota, Nassau, Lima, Panama City, Quito, and Havana. However, although the EST time zone covers the majority of the US, keep in mind that „New York time“ isn’t the same as time in LA or San Francisco, so if you’re calling a friend or a work contact on the West Coast, be sure to calculate what time it is there rather than rely on New York and EST.
It is estimated that almost 142 million people reside in the Eastern Standard Time Zone of the United States. New York (over 19 million people), Florida (almost 17 million people), and Pennsylvania (around 12.5 million people) contribute the most to the total number of residents. However, even though this number seems pretty large, it is not. China, for example, is entirely in one time zone despite having almost 1.38 billion people (as of 2016). How is this possible? The Chinese government had decided the entire country should follow Beijing time – convenient or not.
How to Convert EST to Other Time Zones?
Converting the EST time to other time zones is probably the easiest by using various online tools. Millions of people traveling around the world try to find out the exact time of their destinations before they arrive. However, you won’t have to spend any more time if you understand the basic principles of converting EST to other time zones. Just remember that
- EST is 1 hour ahead of Central Standard Time (CST).
- EST is 2 hours ahead of Mountain Standard Time (MST).
- EST is 3 hours ahead of Pacific Standard Time (PST).
Therefore, to convert EST to CST, you should discount one hour; to convert EST to MST you should discount two hours, and to convert EST to PST, you should discount three hours.
Little-Known Facts About Time Zones
Without time zones, it would be impossible for the Sun to be at its highest point in the sky at noon in all countries on Earth. The Earth rotates 15 degrees per hour, so it makes sense to divide the world into 24 time zones, with each one of them being 15 degrees in size. Now that you know what time zones are and how they are used, and also know what UTC and the UTC offset are, let’s take a look at some interesting things when it comes to time zones:
- The continental United States has four different time zones: Mountain Time Zone, Central Time Zone, Eastern Time Zone, and Pacific Time Zone.
- UTC, also known as Greenwich Mean Time, is centered on the Greenwich Observatory in England. The point is, obviously, called the Greenwich Meridian.
- The EST time zone is the de facto official time for the entire United States because it is the time zone of the capital city, which is Washington D.C.
- Over half of the United States population is in the Eastern Time zone and EST also includes the most populous city in the US, New York City.
- TV Schedules in the US are most of the time posted in Eastern Time, and so are most newspapers. Programs are broadcasted at different hours across the United States to take into account the different time zones. Live events, however, are scheduled in Eastern Time and Pacific Time. Viewers must calculate the starting hour on their own if they are in a different time zone.
- Canada uses the same number of time zones as the United States: 6. However, France has by far the most time zones because it has a number of territories around the world. There are 12 time zones in France in total; in essence this means that the sun never sets in France – a bizarre thought, but true nonetheless.
- All computers and mobile phones will automatically adjust their clock when they get to a different time zone. However, your wristwatch will not; you need to adjust it manually.
- Russia is geographically located in as many as twelve time zones. However, in 2010, president Vladimir Putin decided to erase 3 of the time zones, so now Russia only has 9 times zones. The decision was taken to aid commerce and communications between some of the vast regions of Russia and Moscow – but how do the inhabitants of Siberia feel about it remains unknown.
- Taking a plane to a region that has a negative UTC offset is like going back in time. You may leave at 8 PM and arrive in the other country at 4 PM. Equally, if you head East, you travel into the future. This happens because of time zone differences and is the cause for jet lag. Curiously enough, jetlag is easier to battle when you travel West. It turns out, traveling East extends the day, and our bodies struggle with this change much more than having the day shortened, which is what happens when you travel West.
- Neither the North or the South Poles have time zones – because all of the longtitude lines meet at the poles, there are no official time zones allocated to the South or the North Pole. Does that mean that the time stands still at the Earth’s Poles? Not quite – most international research centers simply follow the time zone of the nearest inhabited area or their own home country.
- Wonder what time is it in space? Turns out, astronauts on the International Space Station follow the GMT time zone.
- North Korea is the only country in the world that has invented its own time zone. It only last a few years, but between 2015 and 2018, North Korea had declared it observes its own Pyongyang Time. It has moved back to observing the same time as South Korea and Japan since, but kudos for trying to save their own time!
- The only two states in the US that do not switch to daylight saving time are Hawaii and Arizona. In addition, US territories like Guam and Puerto Rico also skip the transition.
- Iran, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan are among the few countries in the world that split time zones by half-hour: Iran is GMT+03:30, for example. Even more mind-boggling are some places in New Zealand and Western Australia, splitting time zone differences into fifteen-minute intervals.
- The tiniest place on Earth split between two time zones is the island of Märket in the Baltic Sea. The island belongs to both Sweden and Finland and, as a result, observes the Swedish and the Finnish time with the difference of one hour. It would perhaps make sense for a larger island, but Märket is the size of four football fields.
Now as you’re well informed about the Eastern Standard time and its history, understand its mechanism and know the territories that use EST, you can easily call yourself an expert in the field of EST time zones because that’s pretty much everything an average person needs to know about Eastern Standard Time. We hope that you’ll no longer have problems converting your time to other time zones but still, there’s no way that you can avoid jet lag and its accompanying confusing feelings. Just get used to the fact and travel safely!