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How did Daylight Saving Time get started?

March 9, 2013
By GLYNIS VALENTI - Staff Writer (gvalenti@timesleaderonline.com) , Times Leader

The sky will be brighter tomorrow when the alarm clock rings. It's daylight saving time (DST) weekend, and, while people adjust and get used to the sunnier summer schedule, losing an hour can be initially unsettling. Whose idea was this, anyway?

Well, since ancient societies used lunar calendars and solar-based "clocks" gaining and losing hours weren't really an issue. Some cultures divided the daylight into 12 hours regardless of the length of the day. Thus daylight hours were longer in the summer and shorter in the winter sometimes by plus or minus 15 minutes.

Depending on one's geographic latitude, daylight and night time could be nearly equal in length, or there could be hardly any of either and far more of the other. For instance, along the equator, the numbers of day and night hours remain nearly the same throughout the year. In the extreme parallels (the poles) the lengths vary the most, hence "land of the midnight sun."

People seemed to take this natural timekeeping in stride until 1784 when one clever Benjamin Franklin wrote a satirical essay while he was an American envoy living in France. The letter, written to "The Journal of Paris," relayed Franklin's "shocking discovery" that the sun was up and shining at 6 a.m., well before noon when (he said) Parisians rose. An economical man, he proposed getting citizens out of bed earlier to utilize more daylight hours, thus saving on materials and money for candles during the evening. He suggested a tax on window shutters, ringing church bells at sunrise, firing cannons to wake "sluggards" and imposing limits on how much tallow (for candles) could be bought per family per week. Keep in mind this was the man who said, "Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise."

As travel, especially rail, became more commonplace over the next 75 years, countries began moving toward synchronization. Adopting a "standard time" system where everyone used the same type of clock, based on 24 equal hours made logistics in travel and commerce far easier, even if locations were in different "time zones."

One hundred years after Franklin's hint, an English entomologist who relocated to New Zealand made the first formal moves toward maximizing daylight hours. George Vernon Hudson did shift work for the post office and found evening bug collection difficult in the dark during the summer. He suggested, in a paper to the Wellington Philosophical Society in 1895, that the clock be moved two hours ahead during a daylight saving period where, "a long period of daylight leisure would be made available in the evening for cricket, gardening, cycling or any other outdoor pursuit desired." And he was shown the door.

However, a few like-minded supporters began putting the pressure on to try the concept. Eventually New Zealand did adopt daylight saving time, and Hudson went on to assemble what has been described as "the finest and most perfect collection of New Zealand insects ever formed by any one person."

In London, a prominent business tycoon and golf enthusiast named William Willett was out riding through the streets before taking breakfast one morning. He noticed few people but lots of drawn window shades as he enjoyed the sunshine. Thinking of his curtailed golf matches at dusk, he, too, wrote a proposal to move clocks forward during the summer. This was taken to the House of Commons in 1908 by Robert Pearce, a member of Parliament, but was never passed.

Germany was the first country to adopt a daylight saving time, and its allies followed. This was done as an energy (coal) conservation effort during World War I in 1916. By 1917, Great Britain, its allies, neutral European countries and Russia with its allies had all adopted DST.

At this time, Robert Garland, a Pittsburgh industrialist, city councilman and member of the United States Chamber of Commerce, was appointed chairman of the government's War Resources Committee for District 5 (western Pennsylvania, all of West Virginia and western Maryland). He was a supporter for daylight saving time and pushed for using it during the war. Because of his efforts, the United States adopted it in 1918. Once the war ended, however, nearly all of the countries went back to standard time, including the U.S. Afterwards, until the 1970s, most countries only used daylight saving time sporadically, usually at critical times for energy conservation.

During the energy crisis and oil embargo in the 1970s, DST was implemented again. In the U.S., most states continued with the practice while others went back to full-time standard time, although all of the states except Hawaii and most of Arizona now use DST. Since 2007, the United States daylight saving time begins the second Sunday in March and ends on the first Sunday in November.

Ironically, while the conservation aspect of the switch makes sense on paper and was the primary argument for using DST, studies done throughout the last 30 years have found that the impact of changing over is far less than originally thought.

Much of the world is in the habit of changing clocks twice a year, though times and dates differ from the United States schedule. Here, tonight is the night to go early to bed because tomorrow and the next seven months are primed for fun in the sun.

 
 

 

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