This Sunday, March 9, time-keeping devices throughout most of North America will “spring forward” an hour as Daylight Saving Time begins at 2:00 a.m. The time change will also affect countries in Europe but not until March 30. Time changes corresponding to the Southern Hemisphere are also practiced in Chile, Paraguay, Uruguay, New Zealand, and parts of Brazil, Oceania and Australia. The idea of adjusting daily activities to accommodate more hours of sunlight has been suggested since the time of the early Romans who changed the length of an hour depending on the season. Even though Daylight Saving Time is widespread today, it has a history of controversy.
When Benjamin Franklin was an American envoy to France, he observed that the people of Paris could save on their use of candles if they got up earlier to take advantage of the morning light. He did not propose changing the time itself and his suggestion was satirical. Modern Daylight Saving Time was first proposed in 1895 by George Vernon Hudson of New Zealand. As a scientist specializing in entomology, or the study of insects, Hudson’s job shift allowed him time to collect insects in the daylight. He wrote a paper about how a two-hour time shift would be beneficial and presented it to the Wellington Philosophical Society. He received positive and negative reactions and continued pursuing his idea.
Another proponent for moving the clocks up to accommodate more daylight was William Willet, a wealthy English builder with a fondness for riding horses early in the morning. In 1905 during one of his rides, he noticed how many London homes still had the shades drawn even though it was daylight. He came up with the idea to set the clocks forward during the summer months and called this British Summer Time. He published his proposal in 1907 and it was presented to the House of Commons in 1908 by Robert Pearce, the Liberal Member of Parliament. This Daylight Saving Bill did not become law nor did other similar bills that followed. Willet died in 1915, unsuccessful in his lobbying efforts.
World War I changed the negativity regarding Daylight Saving Time. Germany and Austria-Hungary first implemented the time change in 1916 to help conserve coal. They were followed by England, neutral European countries in 1916, Russia in 1917 and the United States in 1918. It was not a popular decision in the U.S. even though the Standard Time Act of March 19, 1918 was put in place to establish standard time zones and Daylight Saving Time. After the war, Congress abolished it but it was reinstated during World War II.
From the end of WWII until 1966, it was up to individual cities if they wanted to change their clocks or not. There were no federal laws regarding Daylight Saving Time. Twenty-one states did not have it at all. The confusion and controversy prompted the Uniform Time Act of 1966. This established changing the time up one hour from 2:00 a.m. beginning the last Sunday of April to the last Sunday of October. The only way a state could opt out of this was if the entire state agreed. Today, Arizona and Hawaii do not observe Daylight Saving Time.
In 1974, Congress enacted a what was planned as a year-round time change due to the 1973 oil embargo. The purpose was to help conserve fuel but pros and cons quickly became a source of debate. Parents opposed it out of safety concerns for their children going to school in the dark while others noted there were fewer traffic accidents, less crime and more daylight. The debate resulted in a return to standard time in Oct. 1974 which continued through the winter months.
Currently, the extra hour of daylight begins the second Sunday in March and ends the first Sunday in November. Even though Daylight Saving Time has had a history of controversy, it has survived and, for many, is an indication that summer will soon be here.
By: Cynthia Collins