Why do we have Daylight Savings Time?
Thanks to the Energy Policy Act of 2005, most Americans will set their clocks ahead one hour on Sunday, March 9 at 2 a.m. (or doing it before they go to bed on Saturday night).
Since 2007, Daylight Saving Time (DST) begins the second Sunday of March and ends on the first Sunday of November.
DST is touted as an attempt to save energy: Changing the clocks during spring and summer months “moves” an hour of daylight from early morning, when many people are still asleep, to the evening, when people are generally at home and more likely to use artificial lights and other electric appliances.
Benjamin Franklin played a role
But why change the clocks at all? Is it really worth having to readjust the body’s internal clock by an hour twice a year? Who came up with this idea anyway, and why?
Benjamin Franklin is often credited with coming up with the idea of what we now call Daylight Saving Time. It is true that, as an American delegate in Paris in 1784, Franklin published an essay titled “An Economical Project,” in which he made the simple argument that natural light is cheaper than artificial light.
What many people either forget or never knew, however, is that Franklin’s essay was written, like much of his work, rather tongue-in-cheek: It was a joke.
In the essay, Franklin, knowing that Parisians were notorious for sleeping in, wrote that he was awakened by accident at 6 a.m. one morning, only to “discover” that the sun was actually shining at that hour.
Saving daylight — and money
This got Franklin’s scientific brain working, and he calculated that if he had slept until noon, as was usual in Paris, and then stayed awake six hours later in the evening, he would have “wasted” the free daylight and instead would have had to pay for artificial light.
Franklin went on to offer some “regulations” that might aid in an attempt to save money. These included a tax on every window built with shutters, rationing candles, limiting coaches on the streets after sunset, and ringing church bells and firing cannons at sunrise to wake everyone up.
“Oblige a man to rise at four in the morning, and it is probable he will go willingly to bed at eight in the evening,” he wrote.
It was not until the 20th Century that Franklin’s idea of making better use of the daylight hours — “saving” daylight — was actually put into practice, however.
The practice of setting the clocks ahead one hour in the spring in order to make better use of the daylight hours was first put into action during World War I as in effort to save fuel.
At 11 p.m. on April 30, 1916, Germany and Austria became the first countries to mandate national time changes. Other European countries immediately followed suit, and even Britain admitted it was a good idea and implemented the practice three weeks later.
The United States, however, did not establish DST until 1918. An act of Congress established standard time zones throughout the country and set DST on March 19, 1918. Clocks remained an hour “ahead” for two straight years.
Optional for states, municipalities for awhile
The act was repealed in 1919, even though President Woodrow Wilson tried to veto it. Daylight Saving Time then became optional for states or municipalities, so for awhile, cities such as New York City, Philadelphia and Chicago stayed on DST, while other parts of New York, Pennsylvania and Illinois reverted to standard time.
Then came World War II. President Franklin D. Roosevelt instituted year-round DST, known then as “war time,” from Feb. 2, 1942, until Sept. 30, 1945.
The law was again repealed when the need to conserve fuel for the war effort no longer existed. From 1945 until 1966, there was no federal law regarding DST; it was again the decision of individual states and/or localities, leading to fairly widespread confusion.
For example, in 1961, the Committee for Time Uniformity, a lobbying group organized by the transportation industry, discovered that on a 35-mile stretch of Route 2 between Moundsville, W.Va., and Steubenville, Ohio, motorists had to endure seven time changes.
Uniform Time Act
It was the Interstate Commerce Commission, looking out for the interests of the transportation industry and, to a lesser degree, the broadcasting industry, that ultimately pushed for standardization.
The Uniform Time Act was passed in 1966, creating a national DST that would start the last Sunday in April and end the last Sunday in October every year. Any state that wished to exempt itself could do so by passing a state law.
In 1972, the law was revised so those states with more than one time zone could exempt just the parts of the state within one of the zones.
Two states and some territories don’t observe
Arizona (with the exception of the Navajo Nation) and Hawaii, and the territories of American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, and are the only places in the United States that do not observe DST, but instead stay on “standard time” all year long.
The federal law was amended once again in 1986 mandating that DST start the first Sunday in April, rather than the last.
In 2007, DST was again extended so that it now lasts from the second Sunday in March until the first Sunday in November.
Kimberly Donnelly is editor of The Weston Forum, another publication of Hersam Acorn Newspapers.