The Story of Daylight Saving Time

Why do we change our clocks to Daylight Savings Time (actually Daylight Saving Time) in the summer and then move them back in the fall? We remember this with the phrase 'spring forward and fall back'. One of the reasons was to save energy but in Britain, when in the 70s they tried to abolish having to change the time during the seasons, parents were outraged because they didn't want their children to have to go to school in the dark during the winter months. The proposal was followed for a year and then abandoned.

In America, Daylight Savings Time begins for most of us at 2 a.m. on the second Sunday in March. Time 'falls back' again at 2 a.m. on the first Sunday in November. So in the US, each time zone changes at a different time. We chose this time because most of us will be at home asleep in our beds. Of course not all states participate, most of the eastern time zone of Indiana and the whole of Arizona, apart from the Navajo Indian Reservation, do not participate in Daylight Saving Time.

In 2007, following a new US law passed in 2005, American Daylight Savings Time was officially changed as above. Prior to this date, daylight Savings Time started on the first Sunday in April and continued until the last Sunday in October.

In Europe, Daylight Savings Time begins at 1 a.m. GMT (Greenwich Mean Time) for all countries of the European Union on the last Sunday of March. The clocks then change back again at 1 a.m. on the last Sunday of October. It all happens at the same time.

What are we doing when we change our clocks? We are effectively moving an hour of daylight from the morning to the evening instead. So Daylight Saving is a misleading term because no daylight is saved at all, we are just shifting it from the morning to the evening and back again. And when precisely does this happen? Officially the clocks go forward from 1:59 a.m. to 3:00 a.m. in the Spring and back from 1:59 a.m. to 1:00 a.m. in the Fall.

But the main purpose of Daylight Savings Time is to make more efficient use of daylight.
It saves energy because we use less lighting, both summer and winter, and in Britain they claim it saves lives by reducing the number of motor vehicle accidents with pedestrians.

Of course, if you live on or near the equator, it makes no sense to change your clocks at all because the ratio of daylight to darkness is nearly constant. As you move closer to the poles, Daylight Savings Time isn't going to be much help either, not when the sun never sets during the summer months and never rises during the winter. Some countries set their clocks to fractional parts of an hour but that is because they straddle the time zones and has nothing to do with Daylight Savings. This just adds to the general confusion about time.

Of course, many people complain about Daylight Savings Time and would like to see it abolished, once and for all. Insomniacs may find it very difficult to erratically change their sleep patterns by an hour; they may suddenly find themselves sleeping through the night or some such similar disorder. Astronomers can be most put out by the forced requirement to have to waste a further hour in the summer waiting for their telescopes to cool down. Think of the anxiety of a dairy farmer trying to explain it to the cows and what of the religious orders and their dawn prayers?
The concept of Daylight Saving Time was all Benjamin Franklins. Well, he may have thought that early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise but did he have to inflict it on the rest of us?

In fact it wasn't until William Willett (1857-1915), a meddling London builder, started to seriously campaign for Daylight Saving Time that the whole argument began to gain momentum. Bill Willett observed that people had their shutters closed in the morning so that the early morning light wouldn't disturb their sleep, and this got him to thinking. One can't imagine why he would care but then in England, we suppose they wouldn't want to risk wasting even one minute of sunlight, they get so little.

Willett's solution was very complicated involving fractional changes throughout the spring and autumn and he spent a great deal of his own personal resources on his campaigns. Willett died in 1915, never living long enough to see the havoc his idea was to create the following year.

England had the Royal Meteorological Society continuing to follow Greenwich Mean Time claiming that it would affect the tides. The London County Council, who were in charge of the London parks, decided they would continue to close at dusk and so had to stay open an extra hour and Kew Gardens, well they didn't know what was going on and didn't even open at all one day. It wasn't until 1925 that England adopted the process that they 'enjoy' today.

Standard Time

To understand where we are today, we must first look at from where we came. Why do all the towns of Europe have clock towers constructed prominently in the center of the towns? Quite simply, so that everyone would know what the 'official' time was for the town. Of course noon was always the accepted time when the sun was at its zenith during the day, so every town would take their own measurements and set the clock at midday. This meant that every town across Europe was running on a different time.

So in Britain again, we learn that they were the first country to adopt a Standard Time throughout the country. It was the railways that brought about this standard because they were the most concerned about exact time. This was also true in America when Hamilton Watches started to produce fob watches for the American railroads. Very important to know the exact time at which you need to have your goods train safely on the siding, waiting for the express train to pass. Great Western Railways, operating out of Paddington Station in London to the west country (Summerset, Devon and Cornwall) forced the adoption of 'London Time' for the railways in 1840.

In America, the railroads brought standard time divided into time zones to the country in 1883, although it was many years before everyday people adopted the new time. In fact the city of Detroit was still running on local time derived from the position of the sun until 1905 when they finally agreed to move to Central Standard Time. This involved an adjustment of twenty-eight minutes backwards from the then current time for Detroit. The Standard Time Act of 1918 finally brought legality to the new time system in America, with Congress adopting the standard time zones established by the railroads, all those years earlier. Today, the Department of Transportation (DOT) is responsible for administering the time zones and holding any special hearings which are necessary from time to time to decide if existing time zones should be modified. The effect over time has been that the time zones have tended to move towards the west, the product of the inconvenience of living on the far eastern fringes of a time zone.

Daylight Savings Time came to America during World War I, as it did to most of Europe. It was the early efforts to conserve fuel from lighting that led Germany to be the first to adopt such a system. This was quickly followed by the rest of Europe and then later by America, but only for a short while in America, as it proved to be very unpopular at the time. It eventually became just a local option available at the choice of each individual state. It wasn't until Lyndon B Johnson signed into law The Uniform Time Act of 1966 that Daylight Saving Time returned to America with a provision that if any state wanted to 'opt out' they could do so by passing their own state law. However, President Nixon was forced to enact the Daylight Saving Time Energy Act of 1973, during the oil embargo crisis of the Arab-Israeli war which made DST compulsory in all states for a continuous period of fifteen months. There were also some amendments to the act in 1986 which moved the start date for Daylight Saving Time to the first Sunday in the month of April at 2:00 a.m.