by Terry Rogers
On Sunday, the majority of the United States turned their clocks back one hour in order to start Daylight saving time. There are many myths and rumors regarding the practice including who developed the idea and why the country started changing clocks initially.
Daylight saving time began in the United States on March 31, 1918, as part of the wartime efforts during World War I, but it was an Englishman, William Willett, who led the first campaign to implement a plan that would adjust clocks during the year to allow for more daylight. While riding his horse on the outskirts of London around sunrise, Willett came up with an idea that the United Kingdom should move clocks forward by 80 minutes between April and October so that more people could enjoy more sunlight. In 1907, Willett published “The Waste of Daylight” and spent a large portion of his money pushing the British Parliament to implement the idea. However, he died in 1915 before the plan was ever used.
Ben Franklin is often credited with the idea of Daylight saving time. In 1784, while an envoy to Paris, Franklin wrote a satirical essay in which he argued that Parisians could save $200 million in modern money by waking at dawn. The savings, according to Franklin, would come from “the economy of using sunshine instead of candles.” Although Franklin may be credited with the idea of Daylight saving time, he actually only proposed a change in sleep schedules, not changing time itself.
Daylight saving time did not begin in the United States, however. Germany began the practice on April 30, 1916 in order to conserve electricity and the United Kingdom followed suit with what they called “summer time” a few weeks later.
It is commonly believed that Daylight saving time began in the United States in order to benefit farmers but farmers did not request the time change in order to allow more time in the fields. Quite the opposite, the agriculture industry was opposed to changing clocks as the sun, not a clock, determined when farmers began working. Daylight saving time actually disrupted their schedule as hired hands worked less since they still left at the end of the day at the same time and they had to wait an extra hour for dew to evaporate from some crops. Cows weren’t ready to be milked an hour earlier which disrupted shipping schedules.
In 1919, Congress passed a repeal of Daylight Savings Time and, despite the fact that President Woodrow Wilson vetoed the legislation, Congress overrode the veto. After this repeal, some states and cities continued to follow the practice. During World War II, Congress again implemented the time change as a national practice but it was repealed again three weeks after the war ended. However, states and cities were permitted to start and end Daylight saving time whenever they chose which led to what Time magazine called “a chaos of clocks” in 1963. In 1965, there were 23 different pairs of start and end dates in Iowa alone and there were cases where 35-mile bus ride resulted in passengers traveling through seven time zones.
In 1966, Congress enacted the Uniform Time Act which standardized Daylight saving time, although states had the option of remaining on standard time all year. Daylight saving time changed again in 2005 when Congress passed the Energy Policy Act which began the time change in early March and ended it later in the fall.
There are many who question whether the practice is still necessary. Often, energy savings has been touted as the reason to continue the practice, but a U.S. Department of Transportation study in the 1970s concluded that the practice only saves about one percent in the spring and fall. In 2006, a University of California Santa Barbara study found that when Indiana moved to statewide daylight saving time that year, there was a one percent rise in residential electricity use due to the increased evening use of air conditioning. In addition, there are studies that show an increase in gasoline consumption during daylight saving time. Researchers believe the gasoline increase is due to people traveling to parks or other outdoor locations during the added daylight hours after they get home from work.
Daylight savings time does have its benefits, however. Although the reduction in energy use may only be about one percent, it is a reduction. It also allows for electrical load smoothing which separates electric loads throughout the day to deal with the ups and downs of energy usage. This can also lead to a reduction in pollution. Retail stores also like the added hours at the end of the day that encourage people to shop after they leave work. For this reason, the US Chamber of Commerce, the national lobby for convenience stores and Congress continue to push for extensions of daylight savings time. There are many organizations pushing for year-round daylight savings time despite the fact that the federal government only allows them to remain in standard time, not to allow for the time change to remain all year.