The History of Daylight Saving Time and how it began

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By John R. Nieb

Setting the clocks ahead one hour in spring begins Daylight Saving Time for the year. The change from standard time during the summer months, and back one hour to Standard Time in the fall takes better advantage of natural daylight. Daylight Saving Time begins at 2 a.m. on the second Sunday in March and ends at 2 a.m. on the first Sunday in November. When people set their clocks ahead one hour, they lose an hour of sleep, but gain an hour of sleep when they set their clocks back one hour.

In 1784, Benjamin Franklin, one of the country’s founding fathers, was living in Paris the summer he wrote an essay titled An Economical Project, which suggested the idea of Daylight Saving Time. Franklin was not practicing going to bed early and waking up early. One morning he was awakened by the summer sun at 6 a.m., which lead him to write the essay suggested that Parisians should wake up at dawn so they could rely on sunshine instead of candles. That was one of Franklin’s ways of saving money. Even though Franklin proposed the idea of changing sleep schedules and not time itself, some people give him the honor of inventing Daylight Saving Time.
In 1895 New Zealand, George Hudson, an entomologist, worked at the post office during the day and did a majority of his bug hunting after work. Hudson was irritated by the fact that the sun set early during standard time. Hudson wrote a paper to the Wellington Philosophical Society proposing that clocks should be set two hours ahead to gain more daylight time for bug collecting and people could enjoy evening activities in daylight. Clocks could be switched back to “standard” time during the winter when people and insects were less likely to be outside. People rejected the idea at first because they thought it was pointless and difficult to understand.
In 1905, William Willett, an Englishman and promoter of “Summer Time”, was on an early-morning horseback ride around the deserted outskirts of London when he came up with the idea that the United Kingdom should set its clocks ahead 80 minutes between April and October so people could take advantage of having more natural daylight in their days. In 1907, Willett proposed the idea to the British Parliament in a brochure titled The Waste of Daylight. Willet spent a lot of personal time on getting the best use of “summer time.” As the years went by, Parliament turned down the idea of Daylight Saving Time. Since Willett died from influenza at the age of 58 in 1915, he never saw his idea passed as a law.
In 1908, Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada, was the first town to put Daylight Saving Time into effect. Germany was the first country in the world to use Daylight Saving Time when it changed its clocks on April 30, 1916. Germany switched to save on electricity. Weeks later, the United Kingdom started taking advantage of “Summer Time.”
On March 19, 1918, the United States passed its first law on Daylight Saving Time to save money on fuel. It passed the year after the United States entered World War I. It was implemented on March 31, 1918 and was observed for seven months. The United States Chamber of Commerce was in favor of the law because people could leave work in daylight, which meant there was a higher chance that they would go shopping in the evening.
Many people believe that Daylight Saving Time was implemented to give farmers more daylight to work in the fields. However, Daylight Saving Time was implemented in the United States as a wartime measure, and the agricultural industry was against the time change. It is the sun and not the clocks that determine the farmers’ schedules, which meant that Daylight Saving Time disrupted their work schedules. Farmers waited an hour longer for the dew to dry before harvesting hay. They worked fewer hours because everyone still ate dinner at the same time. They couldn’t meet shipping schedules because the cows were not ready to be milked an hour earlier.
In 1919, the agricultural industry fought to revoke national daylight saving time, and Congress responded by repealing the law. President Woodrow Wilson vetoed the repeal and, in return, Congress overrode his veto. Standard Time returned.
After the 1919 national repeal, some states and cities, such as New York City and Chicago, stayed in the habit of changing clocks. During World War II, Daylight Saving Time returned, but was revoked three weeks after the war ended, which left people confused about how to set their clocks. States could choose when to begin and end Daylight Saving Time on a yearly basis. In 1963, Time Magazine referred to this as “a chaos of clocks.” In 1965, there were 23 different start and end dates in Iowa. St. Paul, Minn. started its Daylight Saving Time schedule two weeks before Minneapolis. The 35-mile bus route from Steubenville, Ohio to Moundsville, W.Va. went through seven different time changes.
In 1966, the Uniform Time Act standardized Daylight Saving Time to the last Sunday in April to the last Sunday in October. However, states could choose to stay on standard time all year long. Hawaii and Arizona, except for the Navajo Nation, the United States territories of American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and the Northern Mariana Islands, remain on standard time all year long. There are also some Amish communities that don’t observe Daylight Saving Time. In 1972, Congress revised the Uniform Time Act allowing states with two or more time zones to observe Daylight Saving in one zone and not the other.
About one-quarter of the world’s population in 70 countries observes Daylight Saving Time. The rest don’t because their daylight hours don’t vary from season to season, especially closer to the equator. On the equator, daylight and nighttime hours are always equal in length.
When the oil embargo went into effect in 1973, President Richard Nixon wanted Daylight Saving Time observed all year long. On January 4, 1974, Nixon signed the Emergency Daylight Saving Time Energy Conservation Act of 1973. With that law, Daylight Saving Time started on January 6, 1974. On October 5, 1974, Congress changed the Act and Standard Time began once again on October 27, 1974. The following year, Daylight Saving Time lasted from February 23, 1975 to October 26, 1975. It was only a brief trial because people were afraid of children getting hit by cars when it was dark outside.
In 1986, the United States observed Daylight Saving Time for seven months. From 1986 to 2006, Daylight Saving Time lasted from the first Sunday in April to the last Sunday in October.
On August 8, 2005, President George W. Bush signed the Energy Policy Act of 2005. Daylight Saving Time lasted from the second Sunday in March to the first Sunday in November. The extension of Daylight Saving Time took place in 2007.
Even though Willet sought Daylight Saving Time as a way to save energy, a United States Department of Transportation study held in the 1970s proved that the total electricity savings affiliated with Daylight Saving Time was about one percent during the spring and autumn months. When Indiana started to observe Daylight Saving Time in 2006, economists at the University of California at Santa Barbara concluded that the state was spending one percent more money in residential electricity use because of air conditioning during the summer and heating from the late autumn to the early spring.
Before going to bed on the night of November 4, 2017, don’t forget to set the clock back one hour.
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