CHARLOTTE, N.C., February 28, 2018: It’s that time of year again, the time when most of us head for our watches and clocks. It’s nearly time, in short, for our annual ritual whereby we “spring forward” to Daylight Savings Time. Later in the year of course, we’ll once again “fall back” with the onset of Standard Time.
Many observers believe the secret origin of these twice-yearly time shifts involved hearkens back to a time when the U.S. was heavily agricultural. Hence, Daylight Savings Time addressed the desire to allow farmers more light for working their crops during summer months as well as harvest time.
Actually, there were other reasons to alter daily timekeeping by an hour as well. Many of these reasons proved controversial. But believe it or not, the initial credit for Daylight Savings Time belongs to none other than Benjamin Franklin. He is said to have come up with the idea during the time when he served as the American ambassador to Paris.
Writing a tongue-in-cheek letter to the “Journal of Paris” in 1784, Franklin teased Parisians about their nocturnal activities and their need for burning candles. Franklin remarked he had “discovered” that the sun produces light as soon as it rises. Could it have been that old Ben just wanted more time to fly his kite?
Franklin’s basic plan was to get the stubborn French to schedule their lives according the sun rather than shooting a cannon every morning as a wake-up call to start the day. The flaw in his strategy was that he was unable to find a practical way to accomplish the task of uniformly adding more daylight.
Enter William Willett, an Englishman who dearly loved his early morning outings on horseback. Being a morning person, Willett had difficulty understanding why people wanted to sleep in, wasting those peaceful daybreak hours when the sun was at its freshest.
Willett also loved the idea of having longer hours of daylight at the end of the day. On three occasions, he proposed to Parliament the idea of moving the time of day forward by an hour during the summer. Unfortunately, his bright idea was rejected each time he proposed it..
Alas, poor Willett passed away iin 1915, and never saw his radical idea come to fruition.
One year following Willett’s death, World War I and the Germans changed British thinking on the matter. To help save energy for their war effort, Germany moved its clocks forward by an hour in 1916. Within a month the UK followed suit.
By 1918, when the United States entered the war, President Woodrow Wilson adopted Daylight Saving Time as well. When the war was over, Wilson wanted to continue the change, but farmers actually hated the idea, claiming it put them out of sync with urban regions that bought their products.
By the time the U.S. entered World War II, Daylight Saving Time was re-established. It took less than a month to accomplish after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
With the United States more industrialized than it was at the end of WWI, Daylight Savings Time, often abbreviated DST, gradually became more popular. Many cities opted to stick with the new time shift even though national law had repealed the idea of the time change.
Needless to say, the inconsistent and arbitrary changes in time across the country, which could even vary within the various states. This lack of consistency created chaos among American citizens who frequently had no clue as to what time it was in any given place.
Oddly enough, it wasn’t until 1966 that Congress passed the Uniform Time Act. That legislation said that a state was not required to change to Daylight Saving Time (DST). On the other hand, if one community did so, the entire state had to change as well.
The story doesn’t end there, however. Congress continued to fiddle with the issue. That august body actually changed the length of the Daylight Savings Time time period on three separate occasions since 1966, once in the 1970s, again in the 1980s and most recently in 2005.
As for the reasons why, the energy crisis was the culprit during the ’70s. April became part of the light conservation process in that 1980s reset.
More recently, President George W. Bush added four additional weeks to the Daylight Savings Time period by signing the Energy Policy Act of 2005. Today, DST officially begins at 2 a.m. on the second Sunday in March and ends at 2 a.m. on the first Sunday in November.
There have been some unanticipated benefits and consequences that have stemmed from this ongoing time and clock shifting process. For example, statistics show there are fewer traffic accidents during DST thanks to the extension of daylight. Analysts have determined that year-round Daylight Savings Time might save as many as 400 lives per annum in motor vehicle and pedestrian accidents.
Outdoor exercise is also a benefit of DST, arguably making the nation healthier in the process.
On the other hand, countries located geographically in northern regions can be negatively affected by a switch to DST. When Russia went to permanent Daylight Savings Times in 2011, it shifted the time of sunrise in St. Petersburg to 11 a.m. during some periods of the year. The
Soviets Russians are now considering another change to add more daylight hours to winter.
Though DST only involves a one hour difference in the time of day, some people have difficulty adjusting to the transition. The time shift can disrupt sleep patterns, which some experts say has caused a spike in heart attacks during the first week of DST every year.
Finally, just for the record, the official name of our annual spring time shift is “Daylight Saving Time” rather than “Daylight Savings Time.” Even so, most will happily continue to get this terminology exactly wrong
But come March 10, 2018, it will once again provide all Americans with one more daylight hour to let the “good times roll.” That is, just as long as we can still see that “light at the end of the tunnel.”
About the Author: Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor was an award winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe.