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Time, Money and the 2014 Winter Olympics

by Elaine Schwartz    •    Feb 9, 2013

For Sochi, Russia, (the right) time will be money. The home of the 2014 Winter Olympics, Sochi has to decide just how much to coordinate its clocks with the Europeans.

The issue is prime time. With an optimal schedule, the games can earn more from broadcast rights and sponsors. However, during 2011, the gap between Russian and European time widened when former President Medvedev eliminated daylight savings and now, he opposes switching back. The NY Times said the issue was “delicate.”

Actually time has always been related to money. 150 years ago, the 70 or so different time zones in the US were uncoordinated. Seeing an opportunity to profit, Alexander Langley sold what he called the “right time” to people in the Pittsburgh area. Through Western Union, for an annual fee of $1000, he sent the time to the Pennsylvania Railroad so that they could standardize train schedules. By 1883, the railroads had declared there were 4 time zones in the U.S. In 1918, the Congress agreed.

By contrast, in Russia, today, all train schedules are based on Moscow time–even in Vladivostok, 7 time zones away.

What a difference a market makes!

Sources and Resources: This NY Times article tells the Olympic time tale. Also, for some good stories about what happened when the US lacked standardized time, you might enjoy Keeping Watch: A History of American Time. (Imagine having to connect from a train to a steamship with each using a different source for its schedule.)

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