Tonight, most of us in the U.S. will set our clocks one hour ahead (or they will be automagically set ahead to match the time of an atomic clock operated by National Institute of Standards and Technology in Boulder, CO).
Daylight saving time (DST) in the U.S. — by which clocks are advanced one hour in the spring and moved back one hour in fall when we return to standard time — was formally written into U.S. law in 1918 (only 25 years after the U.S. was divided into time zones), after countries in Europe instituted it during World War I as an energy savings measure, though even before that, Benjamin Franklin’s 1784 essay “An Economical Project for Diminishing the Cost of Light” (in the The Journal of Paris) suggests, “although jokingly, that Parisians could economize candle usage by getting people out of bed earlier in the morning, making use of the natural morning light instead.” Others, including New Zealand George Vernon Hudson in 1895 and British builder William Willett in 1905, also suggested changes to time in spring and fall, and it was Willett’s scheme that eventually led to DST in the UK, adopted in May 1916.
Although proponents could briefly claim “Victory!” when DST became U.S. law in 1918 under President Woodrow Wilson, only seven months later the federal law was repealed. However, cities including Pittsburgh, Boston, and New York continued to use it (was this not confusing?) until President Franklin D. Roosevelt reinstituted it in 1942.
Before 1966, there was really no continuity of standards concerning DST in the U.S., causing “widespread confusion especially for trains, buses, and the broadcasting industry. As a result, the Uniform Time Act of 1966 was established by Congress,” mandating that DST begin the last Sunday of April and end on the last Sunday of October. Briefly, following the 1973 oil embargo, Congress extended DST to a 10-month period in 1974 (from 6 Jan to 27 Oct) and an eight-month period in 1975 (23 Feb to 26 Oct), which did save energy (perhaps the equivalent of 10,000 barrels of oil per day) but meant children walked to school and to bus stops in the dark most of the year. From 1976 to 2006, DST reverted to its previous length from the last Sunday in April to the last Sunday in October, but in 2007, it changed again, in accordance with the Energy Policy Act of 2005, so that the length is now about a month longer, from the second Sunday of March to the first Sunday of November, about 67% of the year — so it’s actually more standard than Standard Time, right?
Even with the national law in place, states could still pass their own ordinances to exempt themselves from the law. The only states that don’t participate now are Hawaii and Arizona (though the Navajo Indian Reservation does). Indiana held out for a long time but finally instituted it in 2006.
The plan — the point of which is to give us more daylight in the evening during months when the weather is the warmest, so we’ll be doing things outdoors and not using energy (and candles) inside — was not without much controversy then, or now. In the early part of the 20th century, it was “popular with some and wildly unpopular with others. In general, city dwellers and factory workers appreciated the extra hour of daylight in the evening that allowed them to work in their Victory Gardens and to attend afternoon ball games. In the country, farmers — whose days conformed to sunlight, not a clock — complained that Daylight Saving actually cost them an hour of daylight, making farm workers an hour late getting to the fields” (excerpted from cached copy of “Playing With Time: The Introduction of Daylight Saving Time in Connecticut”)
Just yesterday, an article published in the Portland (ME) Press Herald, “Now there’s proof daylight saving time is dumb, dangerous and costly,” asserts that “[t]he case for daylight saving time has been shaky for a while. The biannual time change was originally implemented to save energy. Yet dozens of studies around the world have found that changing the clocks has either minuscule or non-existent effects on energy use.” Another article notes that “‘When you give Americans more daylight at the end of the day, they get into their cars,'” which “why the petroleum industry [and allied gas station-convenience stores] has been a longtime supporter of the time change.” Not only does it possibly not save energy use or oil consumption (and may increase it), but there can be harmful effects of losing and gaining an hour, including the loss of an hour of sleep and the disruption to our biological clocks (“Car accidents, strokes, and heart attacks spike in the days after the March time change”) and economic impacts (“After the autumn time change, shoppers made far fewer trips to the store, especially during the week”).
I’m not really sure how I feel about DST. I am not a morning person, so the sudden darkness of March and April mornings doesn’t bother me much. I don’t work away from home, so I don’t really need another hour of light in the warmer months (after work and dinner) in which to garden, and even if I did, there is really very little outdoor gardening to be done here in northern New England until June anyway. What I do like is that “certain slant of light,” not only on a winter’s (non-DST) afternoon but also on a March afternoon, in the sunroom,
and on a summer evening outside in the garden, with the possibility of patio parties extending well into the evening in July and August.
I think for me the hardest part is losing the precious little evening light in the fall, but by November here (and even October), gardening is finished and I am starting to feel a bit like hibernating anyway. On the whole, I guess I like it. If I lived some place with a minor-league baseball team, I would like it even more.
(Poster from LOC collection.)