Here we go again, The clocks turn back tonight. I have t admit it doesn’t bother me as much as it used to. It will mean he cats wake me an hour earlier and for a few days I will really need that first cup of coffee. I’ll adjust quickly enough and the cats won’t even notice the difference. Why do we even go through this? Originally, Ben Franklin suggested manipulating the clocks as a way to save candles in a letter to the editor of the Journal of Paris in 1784. Some say he meant it and most that he was joking, but you never know with Mr. Franklin. He did like to jerk people’s chains but he also like to slip in ideas he thought might meet resistance in an innocuous way .
New Zealand entomologist George Hudson, was perfectly serious and quite selfishly motivated when he recommended moving the clocks by two hours in 1895. He wanted the additional spring daylight hours to study insects. To me his honestly self focused reason has a certain charm. He wasn’t trying to suggest any economic or political benefit that was probably minimal or non-existent at that time.
Several years later, British builder William Willett independently hit on the idea. He proposed it to England’s Parliament as a way to give more useful work time by daylight and save the country money by using less electricity. I wonder how much electricity was actually being used then? Probably a lot more than I think. His idea was championed by such luminaries as Winston Churchill and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Willett kept arguing for the concept up until his death in 1915 and never lived to see the British government adopt his idea. His scheme was rather complicated even as his logic made great sense. If interested you can read his proposal here.
When the idea was finally put into practice, wouldn’t you know it, it was because of war. In April 1916, Germany adopted DST to reduce the use of artificial light and save coal. A few other countries, including the U.S. and Great Britain, followed shortly after. However, all went back to Standard Time once the war ended. The pattern was repeated during World War II but in the United States states and other districts were allowed to continue the ritual, and even vary the start and stop dates.
As you might expect, this flexibility led to what Time Magazine called a “chaos of clocks.” By 1965, there were 23 distinct pairs of DST start and stop dates just in the state of Iowa! Congress finally took action to iron things out in 1966, passing the Uniform Time Act that set a standard for the entire nation, with a start on the last Sunday in April and end on the final Sunday in October, However, it was not mandatory, so off curse there were holdouts. Hawaii, most of Arizona, and the US territories, Puerto Rico, Guam, The Northern Marina Islands and the US Virgin Islands, opted out.
United Sates DST has been revised twice since. In 1986, Ronald Reagan signed a law that moved the start time to the first Sunday in April. One reason given for the change was to give children with more outdoor playtime during daylight. Later, George W. Bush signed the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which extended DST by four weeks. The change took effect in 2007, started DST on the second Sunday in March and pushed back the end date to the first Sunday in November.
I found out a lot I didn’t know for this post. Sometimes what starts out as an easy idea opens up a rabbit hole I am compelled to enter, like Alice following the March hare with his pocket watch. Some is just trivia, like the fact William Willett is the great-great grandfather of Chris Martin of Coldplay. Interesting to me as a Coldplay fan but not so useful. Finding a book for my reading list is useful and I discovered David Prerau’s, Seize the Daylight: The Curious and Contentious Story of Daylight Saving Time. There were some good reviews and I always enjoy learning what motivates people and why we change or don’t change things in society. Of course, I may find myself running out of time for anything else if I start a lot of reading. It’s not just changing clocks that gets you falling behind.