The Origins Of Daylight Savings Time

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Now that most of the nation is taking a break from Daylight Savings Time (Arizona and Hawaii are exempt from the twice yearly clock shift) and is also recovering from the Presidential Election, I thought it might be fun to review the history of Daylight Savings Time.

ROOTS OF DAYLIGHT SAVINGS TIME

The concept of Daylight Savings Time (DST) originated in ancient civilizations as our ancestors referenced the daylight hours and adjusted their daily schedules accordingly. However, the practice of conserving daylight hours over the centuries was sporadic. The idea resurfaced in the 18th century when American politician and inventor Benjamin Franklin wrote an essay in 1784 called “An Economical Project for Diminishing the Cost of Light” which he submitted to the editor of The Journal of Paris. Franklin suggested that candle usage could be minimized by adjusting clocks to get people out of bed earlier in the morning in an effort to use natural sunlight instead.

More than a century later, a New Zealand scientist by the name of George Vernon Hudson proposed a two-hour shift in time forward in October with a corresponding two-hour shift backward in March, but the idea never took off. Ten years later, a more dizzying concept of adjusting clocks was suggested by a Brit by the name of William Willett. Willett came up with the idea of setting clocks ahead 20 minutes on each Sunday in April, then switching them back on each Sunday in September. His idea was then introduced to the House of Commons in 1908, with the first Daylight Saving Bill drafted the following year and presented to Parliament. The United Kingdom did not put DST into effect until 1916, a year after Willett died.
More recently, Germany developed DST and introduced it on April 30, 1916 by turning the clocks forward by one hour. This was done in an effort to conserve fuel normally used for artificial lighting so that it would be used for the war effort during World War I.

The United States followed suit two years later by instilling the Standard Time Act, which ran from March through the summer. President Woodrow Wilson signed DST, also known as “Fast Time”, into law to support the war effort during WWI. However, it was not a popular idea and was revoked by the end of WWI. Other countries, like France and the United Kingdom, had also embraced the concept of DST but also abandoned it after WWI.

By World War II, however, President Franklin D Roosevelt implemented year-round DST, also called “War Time”, from February 9th, 1942, until September 30th, 1945 throughout the United States and Canada. The different time zones throughout the United States were referred to as “Pacific War Time”, “Central War Time”, “Mountain War Time”, and “Eastern War Time”. The time zones were renamed “Peace Time” in August of 1945 after Japan’s surrender.

The United Kingdom took a slightly different approach, employing the use of “Double Summer Time” during WWII which meant setting clocks two hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) during the summer, and one hour ahead of GMT during the winter.

AMERICANS PLAYING WITH DAYLIGHT – 20TH CENTURY AND BEYOND

After WWI and WWII, the United States dropped the federal mandate on DST, leaving it up to individual states and cities to decide if they wanted to practice DST, and how to implement it. In 1954, only two states, California and Nevada, had statewide laws regarding DST. By 1966, there were 100 million Americans who observed DST based on their local laws, but a federal law was still lacking. Congress decided to end the confusion by establishing a pattern which applied throughout the country. The Uniform Time Act was signed into law in April of 1966 by President Lyndon Johnson, thus creating the modern version of Daylight Saving Time. It specified the beginning as the last Sunday of April and the end as the last Sunday of October. The law was not mandated, so any state which wanted to be exempt from DST could do so by passing a state law.

Congress revised the Uniform Time Act in 1972 to enable a state which was in two or more time zones to exempt one portion of the state in one time zone while observing DST in another part of the state. When the oil embargo of 1973 hit, Congress decided to extend DST to a period of ten months in 1974, then eight months in 1975, in an effort to save energy. Federal law was again revised in 1986 to change the beginning of DST to the first Sunday in April.

The current United States DST schedule, which was adopted in 2007, followed the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which extended the period of DST by about one month. The current DST guidelines are as follows:

Begins at 2:00 a.m. on the second Sunday of March

Ends at 2:00 a.m. on the first Sunday of November

There are over 70 countries worldwide which use Daylight Savings Time, with many variations on beginning and end dates. However, the European Union (EU) implemented a standardized EU-wide DST schedule in 1996 which begins the last Sunday in March and ends the last Sunday in October.

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