The Real Story of Daylight Saving Time

It’s time to jump ahead for summer time , but who came up with this bizarre practice? And why? If you just answered “Benjamin Franklin” and “Helping Farmers,” you should probably read this.

Many Americans like to claim that Benjamin Franklin invented DST, but this is not entirely true. Franklin did write an essay that encouraged Parisians to make the most of daytime in 1784 , but it was satirical in nature and was partly meant to play a trick on the French. Basically, he explained how they could save a ton of money on candlelight if everyone just woke up earlier and used more daylight. Franklin said nothing about time adjustments.

In fact, two Britons came up with the idea almost simultaneously, the scientist George Vernon Hudson and the builder William Willett . Hudson presented a paper to the Wellington Philosophical Society in 1895, in which he proposed moving time forward two hours in October and two hours back in March. They liked the idea, but it didn’t catch on. Then, ten years later, Willett came up with a different approach to the idea, which was to increase the enjoyment of daylight hours (or what is known as “British Daylight Saving Time”). He suggested moving the clocks forward 20 minutes every Sunday in April, and then changing this process on Sundays in September. In 1907, Willett published his newspaper, A Waste of Daylight, and began lobbying parliament for its implementation.

It was not yet widely adopted in Britain, but by 1908 Ontarians were the first to introduce daylight saving time , followed by several other places in Canada. Then, during World War I, Germany and their ally Austria-Hungary popularized the concept by adopting the first official nationwide daylight saving time policy on May 1, 1916. It was conceived as an attempt to save fuel and energy during the war. After that, Britain and the rest of Europe followed suit.

In the United States, the DST will take effect in March 1918. Contrary to popular belief, this had nothing to do with farmers lobbying for more time to cultivate their fields . In fact, they were against this idea. Why? Because the farming schedule was dictated by the sun, not the clock. All DST did was confuse farmers and make it difficult for them to get their jobs done. In fact, DST was introduced in the states for the same wartime fuel economy reasons as in Germany, and was lobbied by recreational and retail organizations. Think about it: if you have more daylight after you leave work, you are more likely to go shopping or play golf. This is largely why we still have daylight saving time.

By 1919, agriculture took over and the national DST was canceled. He returned briefly during World War II, but this only confused him. The point is, even though it was canceled, reclaimed, and then removed again, some states and cities used daylight saving time all the time anyway. This led to decades of confusing time differences across the country. At certain times of the year, a 30-minute car ride could take you through five to seven different time zones, leading to what Time magazine called “watch chaos” in 1963 . Fortunately, the Universal Time Act eliminated all of this in 1966. It standardized daylight saving time for the country, but allowed states to drop it if they wanted to stay on standard time. In the end, Arizona and Hawaii ditched this, and the rest of the country must change their clocks twice a year.

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