Daylight Saving Time and Why the U.S. Falls Back Tonight

Daylight Saving Time

Sunday at 2:00 a.m. most cities in the U.S. will fall back an hour with the end of Daylight Saving Time for the year. Although most people do not mind the extra hour of sleep, the time change is an increasingly controversial practice that many would like to do away with permanently. Daylight Saving Time actually lasts eight months of the year, leaving the U.S. on Standard Time for only four months. Some states have already opted out of the biannual time change: neither Arizona nor Hawaii observe it, and Utah may soon join them.

The practice of moving the clocks forward in the spring came about after World War I, with the theory that it would help conserve fuel because people would need less heat and light due to more sunlight being available during their waking hours. However, whether “Summer Time” means making better use of daylight depends on the activity. Farmers resisted Daylight Saving Time because their days have always been controlled by the sun rather than the clock. Some believe their productivity is reduced because they are missing an extra hour of sunlight in the morning.

The concept of energy cost savings persisted for many years, but has recently been debunked. Now the theory is that with the extra hour of daylight in the evening, many are out driving around and doing things, meaning there is more energy cost. A public health benefit might be fewer accidents due to more light while these people are out.

Even though being out driving around results in increased energy costs, Americans are probably spending money while doing it, providing an economic stimulus that is related to why the “summer” hours now last into November. People shop, they stop by convenience stores, they purchase gas. All types of businesses and recreational activities attract more business when there is more daylight after the traditional work day is done. In 2005, the change back to Standard Time was moved from October to November, largely due to Halloween. Lobbyists supporting candy manufacturers wanted children to have an extra hour of daylight for trick-or-treat, meaning more candy purchases.

As a result of these gradual changes, the U.S. is now actually on altered time more than it is on regular time. It used to be argued that doing away with the time change completely would make life simpler, but in the current day of smartphones, computers and other devices that change their clocks automatically that argument loses its appeal. More of the inconvenience now is with trying to reset the clocks on small children and pets. There is also the annoyance for people with aging clock radios that still think they are supposed to fall back in October and make the change on the wrong day.

Benjamin Franklin was the one who thought of Daylight Saving Time in 1784, while he was in Paris. It was first advocated in a serious manner by William Willett, a London builder, in 1907. He proposed advancing the clocks by 20 minutes on each Sunday in April, and pushing them back by 20 minutes on each of the Sundays in September, in order to help people see and use the “clear, bright light of an early morning during Spring and Summer months.”

Daylight Saving Time was first set to begin on March 31, 1918. It was so unpopular that it was repealed in 1919, although it stayed a local option, continuing in a few states. President Franklin Roosevelt established “War Time,” which was year-round Daylight Saving Time, during World War II. With no laws regulating the time change, from 1945 to 1966 states and localities were free to choose whether or not to observe it at all, and when it would begin and end.

The Emergency Daylight Saving Time Energy Conservation Act of 1973 was signed by President Richard Nixon on Jan. 4, 1974. On Jan. 6, 1974, clocks were set ahead. On Oct. 27, when Congress amended the Act, Standard Time returned. Daylight Saving Time resumed Feb. 23, 1975, and ended Oct. 26, 1975. Today there are approximately 70 countries in the world that use Daylight Saving Time, with India, China and Japan the only major industrialized countries that do not observe at least some form of the controversial convention.

By Beth A. Balen

Feature image by Marian Stanton – Flickr
Lead Image by Pete – Flickr

One Response to "Daylight Saving Time and Why the U.S. Falls Back Tonight"

  1. Cynthia Collins   November 1, 2014 at 8:23 am

    Very interesting article.

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