The History of Daylight Saving Time

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Photo courtesy: An Errant Knight
Photo courtesy: An Errant Knight

Great news for the working folks out there who have had just about as much as they can take of getting home after work only to discover that it’s practically nighttime: at 2 a.m. on Sunday, March 12, the time will change to 3 a.m. during Daylight Savings Time.

On the other hand, “springing forward” is terrible news for those of us who enjoy squeezing in that very last second of sleep each morning, as it means that we will lose an entire hour of sleep Sunday night.

Benjamin Franklin proposed a form of daylight time in 1784. His essay, “An Economical Project for Diminishing the Cost of Light”, written to the editor of The Journal of Paris, observed that Parisians could save on candles by getting out of bed earlier in the morning, making use of the natural morning light instead. Franklin’s suggestion seems to have been more of a joke than a real proposal, and nothing came of it; however, more than a century later, during World War I, France’s enemy, Germany took Franklin’s advice and began observing DST on May 1, 1916.

The rest of Europe soon followed. Two years later, the United States adopted the Standard Time Act for a short while, but the idea was unpopular and Congress soon abolished DST after the war, overriding President Woodrow Wilson’s veto.

DST became a local option and was observed in some states until World War II, when President Franklin Roosevelt instituted year-round DST, called “War Time”, on February 9, 1942. It lasted until the last Sunday (the 30th) in September 1945. After 1945 many states and cities east of the Mississippi River (and mostly north of the Ohio and Potomac rivers) adopted summer DST.

From 1945 to 1966 there was no federal law on daylight saving time, so localities could choose when it began and ended or drop it entirely.

By 1962, the transportation industry found the lack of consistency confusing enough to push for federal regulation and the Uniform Time Act of 1966 (P.L. 89-387) was passed.  The act mandated standard time within the established time zones and provided for Daylight Saving Time: clocks would be advanced one hour beginning at 2:00 a.m. in the spring and turned back one hour in fall.

States were allowed to exempt themselves from DST as long as the entire timezone in a state does so. If a state chose to observe DST, the time changes were required to begin and end on the established dates.

In 1967, Arizona and Michigan became the first states to exempt themselves from DST (Michigan would begin observing DST in 1972). Presently Arizona and Hawaii are the only two states that exempt themselves from observing DST.

Ooops, sorry. I did it again, I went all history geek on you.  The bottom line is that you need to flip your clocks ahead an hour this Saturday night before you go to bed!

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