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What’s Behind Daylight Saving Time?

Cover Photo by Malvestida Magazine via Unsplash

November 1 will mark yet the closing of yet another iteration of Daylight Saving Time, the widely accepted yet somewhat enigmatic spot on our calendars we adore in the autumn and scorn in the spring. While it undoubtedly feels strange to relive the same hour twice in one half of the year only to have it snatched back a few months later, the tradition has evolved to become largely uncontested in the United States. What exactly is the origin of Daylight Saving Time, though, and why do we follow it?

Back to the Beginning

It is something of a well-circulated falsehood that Benjamin Franklin deserves credit for the advent of Daylight Saving Time. However, historians claim that he actually did little more than encourage the inhabitants of Paris to rise with the sun when he authored “An Economical Project” in 1784. The logic? Hit the pillow sooner, wake earlier, and pocket the money that would otherwise be spent on candles. 

Instead, the English William Willett has garnered recognition for engineering the principle in its earliest form. His plan came over a century later around 1907, entailing a series of weekly clock adjustments in 20-minute increments throughout April and September.

Let the Saving Commence!

In an effort to save electricity amidst the frugality of World War I, the German government pioneered Daylight Saving Time in 1916. In the spirit of competitive pressure, the United Kingdom soon did likewise later that year; the United States did so in 1918. 

In addition to World War I, many also look to the needs of agricultural producers as a stimulus for Daylight Saving Time. This is, however, yet another untruth, as farmers across the country were actually intensely aggravated by the procedure. Given that their work is utterly (pun intended) dependent on the rhythms of the natural world, setting the clocks forward or backward only served to introduce unwelcome complications to their labor.

This discontent is one reason why the initiative was so unpopular in America, and it was consequently rolled back soon after the war. Regardless, certain urban centers (we see you, New York City) and smaller municipalities alike forged ahead with the measure. Compounded with burgeoning communication and transportation networks across the country, the stage had practically been set for a logistical nightmare. 

Here We Go Again…

With the outbreak of World War II came a new episode of Daylight Saving Time in the United States. Even roughly two decades later, though, various areas of the country were still not on the same page. In an effort to bring the measure’s myriad regional discrepancies into alignment, the Uniform Time Act in 1966 set a standard for when and by how much clocks were to be changed each year. 

Interestingly enough, however, this legislation was not entirely successful in its mission of standardization. Even today, Arizona and Hawaii have opted out of Daylight Saving Time, although the former state’s Navajo Nation constitutes an exception. Globally, historians estimate that just about 25% of the population partakes in these biannual clock manipulations, with geographic position playing a key role in determining whether or not the process is truly necessary. 

What are your thoughts on Daylight Saving Time? Let us know in the poll below!

Cover Photo by Malvestida Magazine via Unsplash

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Written by Megan Pontin

Enthusiastic word-collector, avid pancake-consumer, and experienced hammock-lounger. Student at Cornell University.

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