Making the most of our day

The story behind daylight saving time

Created date

March 26th, 2013
Daylight Savings

In 1784, Benjamin Franklin, then America s ambassador to France, playfully chided Parisians on their frivolous use of candles, suggesting in an anonymous letter to the Journal de Paris that they economize on resources. Borrowing from a Poor Richard s aphorism, he recommended that the French rise earlier to use morning light and further proposed that the government tax shutters, forcibly ration candles, and wake the public at the break of dawn by way of thunderous cannon fire and the ringing of church bells. Franklin s suggestions were doubtless tongue in cheek, but in all seriousness, civilizations throughout history have searched for ways to best use their time and, more specifically, their daylight hours. The Romans, for instance, used water clocks with adjustable scales that they calibrated to various seasons based on the amount of sunlight they d have for the day. Still, daylight saving time as we know it is, historically speaking, a fairly new concept.

From entomologist to golfer

By most accounts, New Zealand entomologist George Vernon Hudson was the first to suggest the tradition. Hudson, whose day job as a postal employee involved shift work, harnessed his spare time to collect plants and insects. He so valued whatever daylight he could get that, in 1895, he presented a paper before the Wellington Philosophical Society recommending a two-hour daylight saving adjustment. Three years later, Hudson pushed the topic once more in a second paper but it failed to catch on. Even so, the notion of a daylight saving system circulated the globe and resurfaced in 1905 with British outdoorsman William Willett, an avid golfer fed up with having to stop shy of 18 holes because of darkness. For years, Willett lobbied for daylight saving time (or "summer time" as he called it) and, with the help of a member of Parliament, made several attempts at passing a daylight saving bill, all of which failed.

World War I s impact

Daylight saving time wasn t official until 1916, when Germany became the first country to institute such a system to conserve coal usage during World War I. Country after country soon followed, starting with Britain, then Russia, and finally, the United States in 1918. Today, the process is not a novelty but a matter of habit. Spring forward and fall back, we always say to remind ourselves on the appropriate dates of change. In the winter, the practice gives us more light in the morning; in the summer, more light in the evening. And we manage to do it without the ringing bells and booming cannons. Mr. Franklin would be impressed.

A brief timeline of daylight ' saving time

  • 1784: Benjamin Franklin is credited with introducing the idea behind daylight saving time as a way to preserve candles, the source of evening light for many.
  • 1883: The United States and Canada began recognizing time zones, as a push by the railroads to establish continuity of services.
  • 1918: The Standard Time Act passes in the United States, which formally outlines time zones. Daylight saving time is added as part of the act.
  • 1919: The portion of the act mandating daylight saving time proves unpopular and is repealed. But time zones remain in effect. Local government agencies are left to decide how to handle daylight saving time.
  • 1942: President Franklin D. Roosevelt reinstates daylight saving time as another effort to reduce energy use during WWII.
  • 1945: The original ruling by President Roosevelt ends with the war. States are allowed to choose their own preferences for continuing this practice.
  • 1966: Congress creates the Uniform Time Act, which includes a nationally recognized pattern for summer time changes. Why? The transportation industry wants consistency across the nation. Local governments are allowed exemptions from the new rule. The act states that the new daylight time begins on the last Sunday in April and runs through the last Sunday in October, with the changing of clocks to occur at 2 a.m. local time.
  • 1974 1975: Year-round daylight saving time begins in response to the U.S. energy crisis. But conflict over dark mornings and safety issues around children travelling to school ends the trial after the first year.
  • 1986: A new federal law states that daylight saving time will begin on the first Sunday in April, with no change made to the end date.
  • 2005: President George W. Bush signs the Energy Policy Act of 2005, extending daylight saving time to begin the 2nd Sunday in March and end the 1st Sunday in November (beginning in 2007).