Sunday, November 4, 2012

Daylight Saving Time—a brief history

At 2:00AM on Sunday, November 4th, we went off Daylight Saving Time in the U.S. We readjusted that flexible one hour of daylight, putting it back into standard or normal time until next Spring. First we Spring forward and lose an hour's sleep, then we Fall back and regain that hour. Daylight Saving Time (yep, technically it's the singular saving rather than the plural savings)—why in the world do we do this? How does this bizarre ritual benefit us? Or does it? Maybe the answer can be found in the history of Daylight Saving Time.

The purpose of Daylight Saving Time is to make better use of natural daylight. We change the clocks in spring as we're approaching warm summer weather to give us an additional hour of daylight in the evening when we can be outdoors, a time when people would otherwise be using more lights and electricity.

The concept of Daylight Savings isn't a creation of modern times. It was introduced by Benjamin Franklin in 1784 but it didn't go anywhere until 1907 when Englishman William Willett advocated Daylight Saving Time in a pamphlet titled Waste Of Daylight. After several European countries put Daylight Saving into practice during World War I, the U.S. formally adopted it in 1918. It proved unpopular and was discontinued in 1919. At that time the U.S. was still had a large agrarian population and businesses in cities didn't stay open in the evening as they do now. People were more inclined to get up early and go to bed early thus making that additional hour of daylight time in the evening not practical.

Some states and regions continued Daylight Saving after 1919, but it didn't become a national decree again until World War II. From 1942 to 1945, it was referred to as War Time and observed year-round. From 1945 to 1966 there was no federal law dealing with Daylight Saving. States and local regions were left to their own devices, to institute it as they saw fit or to abolish it completely.

By 1966 the need for consistent time schedules nationwide (television broadcasting and airlines, for example) resulted in Congress passing the Uniform Time Act which designated Daylight Saving to begin the last Sunday in April and quit the last Sunday in October with states free to exempt themselves from participating in Daylight Saving Time but not allowed to alter the dates of its use. In 1986 the federal law was amended to start Daylight Saving Time on the first Sunday in April but still end the last Sunday in October.

Then in August 2005, Congress passed the Energy Policy Act which changed the dates effective in 2007 to start the second Sunday in March and end the first Sunday in November which leaves us on Daylight Saving Time for the majority of the year.

This year I do have fewer clocks to reset than previous years and I owe that to my cable company. A couple of months ago I switched from regular cable to HD digital and replaced two of my vcr/dvd combos with the dvr boxes from the cable company which gave me two fewer clocks to reset. So…my desktop and laptop computers reset themselves, the atomic clock in my office resets itself, the dvr boxes reset themselves. That leaves me an answering machine, four clocks, two watches, one microwave…and a partridge in a pear tree. Oh, wait a minute. No partridge. Instead there's the the clock in my car.

And the debate continues…do we really need Daylight Saving Time? Can't we just pick one or the other, Daylight Saving or Standard, and let that be it year-round?

What do you think?


Fiona McGier said...

I must say I really enjoy the extra hour of sleep in the fall! But I detest losing an hour in the spring. Being a chronically sleep-deprived woman with multiple jobs, I need all of the extra sleep I can get! But really, I don't think we need to mess up our circadian rhythms twice a year. I think we should just stay with standard time all year and forget about having to change the time. We do that enough whenever there are weather-caused power outages.

Samantha Gentry said...

Fiona: I know what you mean about those power outages! You get a power hit that takes you out for less than a minute and you have to run around and reset all the clocks that are now flashing 12:00 at you. Definite pain.

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