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Why You Just Lost an Hour: The History behind Daylight Saving Time

gkuna / iStock

gkuna / iStock

You know that feeling; the sudden rush of your alarm clock going off an hour earlier than it should. For those that rely simply on your auto-adjusting cell phone clock, you might have missed it. Daylight Saving Time occurred just last week (March 9, 2014), and although you might be getting used to it already, have you ever stopped and wondered why you just lost an hour of sleep? Turns out, Daylight Saving Time has been a hot subject for quite some time, and its history is connected to war, trains, and candle wax. And simply for your knowledge, here is the quick lowdown on this time changing event:

Benjamin Franklin or William Willet
The origin of the idea of Daylight Saving Time (DST) is debated. And maybe, like all big ideas, it was a culmination of things. But to give someone credit you can take a look at Benjamin Franklin’s 1784 essay “An Economical Project for Diminishing the Cost of Light”. Some may say in satirical way, Ben Franklin remarks on how much money could be saved on candle wax if we shifted the time back to better utilize natural light. Whether he was serious or not, the idea was out there, and it wasn’t brought up again until 1907 when William Willet published a brochure entitled “The Waste of Daylight.” In his reading, William advocates for DST in the interest of increased recreation time. Between the two of them, Ben Franklin and William Millet set the tone for the advocacy and implementation of Daylight Saving Time for the rest of the 20th century.

War Time
It wasn’t until World War I in 1916 did DST become used. And it wasn’t the United States who used it. To conserve fuel, Germany was the first country to officially adopt the time change. The rest of Europe followed Germany’s lead soon after, and in 1918 the United States also jumped on board with “an act to preserve daylight and provide standard time for the United States.”

Almost immediately after the war however, congress abolished DST and gave individual states discretion to dictate their own time. It wasn’t again until 1942, during World War II, did Franklin Roosevelt bring back year-round DST labeling it as “War Time.” This lasted for three weeks after the war officially ended, and then reverted back to state and local discretion.

Source: Congressional Research Service Report: Daylight Saving Time

A Big Mess of Time
Between the years of 1944 and 1966, every state and local municipality had the authority to dictate their own time changes. That meant by traveling across a state you could shift time zones numerous of times and sometimes never even know it. This made working in the transportation industry a headache in both never knowing what time it was and meeting certain regulations or schedules. In response to the tangled mess of time zones, Congress enacted the Uniform Time Act of 1966. This act mandated standard time across the United States including two seasonal shifts of the clock, allowing states to exempt themselves if the entire state agrees to do so. In 1968 Arizona* became the first state* * to exempt themselves from Daylight Saving Time.

Source: US Department of Transportation – Uniform Time

Pros and Cons
More hours for recreation, increased savings in electricity and heating costs, and a reduction of crime due to increased daylight hours; if you are for DST, you have some good arguments. Although the tests are too inconclusive to suggest DST has successfully saved electricity or reduced crime, these have been the platforms for DST for many years.

For those against, strong arguments exist as well. In the beginning, farmers were the leading voice in the anti-DST movement. They claimed their work wasn’t determined by the clock but by the sun. Thus moving the time forward or backward did nothing but effect and disrupt their schedules. Within more recent years, fear of children walking to school in the dark hours of morning after time jumped forward has gained voice in the debate.

Both arguments have been heard, and since 2005, Daylight Saving Time occurs in the United States the second Sunday in March and the first Sunday in November.

Source: Congressional Research Service Report: Daylight Saving Time

Make Some Adjustments
Whichever way you roll, it typically only takes 1-2 weeks for someone to adjust to Daylight Saving Time. And depending on their schedule, and dependence on artificial light, it can be much less for some. But the next time you fall back or spring forward, think to yourself and know, why is this happening?

*Why did Arizona exempt themselves? – Back in 1966, the negative response to DST in Arizona was so loud, they almost immediately exempted the entire state and haven’t looked back since. The opposition came from anyone who had to work outside in the sweltering Arizona summer, where starting the day in the dark was a welcomed relief.
**Other exemptions: Arizona, Hawaii, American Samoa, Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands
Source: NPR – “Arizona Says No to Daylight Savings Time

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