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Daylight Saving Time

History of Daylight Saving Time

Hopefully you remembered to set your clocks back yesterday morning! Thankfully most of us will see more daylight in the mornings now when we are getting ready for work.

Have you ever wondered when DST started? While it has only been used for about the last 100 years, even ancient civilizations practiced forms of DST. For example, many civilizations would adjust their days based on the sun’s schedule. The Roman’s even had special water clocks that used different scales based on the month of the year. No matter when or how it has been used, the purpose of DST has always been to conserve and make better use of daylight. Different countries across the world have different dates that they adjust their clocks, and in many places DST is called “Summer Time.” Approximately 70 countries use DST, although in the tropics it is not overly useful because they already have longer days due to their proximity to the equator.

DST originated in an attempt to conserve energy, primarily electricity. Although several scientists/scholars had similar ideas previously (Benjamin Franklin was one of the first), one of the originators was British builder William Willett. In 1906, Willett suggested that every Sunday in April the clocks be adjusted 20 minutes forward, and similarly each Sunday in September they would be set back 20 minutes. However many people opposed his idea, primarily farmers, and although a bill was drafted and presented to Parliament it never made it through. The first country to fully implement DST was Germany in 1917, when they set their clocks forward one hour on April 30th at 11:00 PM. Again, the rationale was to conserve artificial lighting to save fuel during World War I. Many countries (including the U.S.) followed suit after Germany adopted the idea.

In the U.S. however, DST caused chaos and confusion from 1945 to about 1966, because all states could choose when and if they participated. As you can imagine, this caused mass miscommunication with transportation and the broadcasting industry. Congress decided to put an end to the chaos and passed the Uniform Time Act of 1966 to bring all states on the same page. This act stated that DST would occur on the last Sunday of April and the last Sunday of October each year. States were still given the freedom to pass their own ordinances and be exempt from DST if they chose. Since this time the Uniform Time Act has been amended several times.

Did you know:

  1. The correct terminology is Daylight Saving Time, not Daylight Savings Time
  2. Many people have the view that DST originated to give farmers more time to work in the fields, but many farmers actually opposed the idea. For farmers, the sun and not the clock dictated their schedules, so having time change was actually very disruptive.
  3. Not everyone in the U.S. participates in DST – Arizona and Hawaii have passed their own ordinances that allows them to skip the time change. Some Amish communities across the U.S. similarly choose not to participate.
  4. The most recent studies of DST show that it isn’t as effective to conserve energy as it was originally. In the 1970’s, a study showed that DST saved about 1% per day in electrical usage country-wide. However as air-conditioning has become more common in households, the savings in electricity are more than offset by cooling costs during the summer months.