How a World War, Ben Franklin & Lazy Frenchmen Gave Us Daylight Saving Time

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PHOTO: Marshal Joffre inspecting Romanian troops during World War I
PHOTO: Marshal Joffre inspecting Romanian troops during World War I

Americans will enjoy an extra hour of sleep Sunday morning, with the only trade off being darker skies earlier in the evening.  Daylight Saving Time ends Saturday night, with clocks “falling back” one hour to the “standard time” at 2 a.m. Sunday, November 5, 2017.

But why did the practice of “saving daylight time” ever come in to being in the first place?

The answer to this curious question begins with an idealistic American ambassador named Benjamin Franklin.

While serving in Paris during the 1780’s, Franklin observed the affects the insatiable French lifestyle was having upon the nation’s energy resources.

Long an advocate of rising early, Franklin had previously published the old English proverb, “Early to bed, and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.”

Writing an essay in The Journal of Paris, he observed that Parisians could save on candles by getting out of bed earlier in the morning, making use of the natural morning light instead burning candles so late in the evening.

Unaffected by Franklin’s observation, the French society around Paris took Franklin’s suggestion to be more as a joke than a real proposal and nothing came of the Philadelphia thinker’s idea.

Over the next century, Franklin’s idea of waking up an hour earlier in order to maximize the amount of natural daylight soon became a forgotten relic of American and European history — forgotten until 1916, when an ever expanding German Empire was attempting to invade, of all places, Paris!

Recognizing the American forefather’s flawless logic that if the clocks are sprung forward an hour, people begin the day earlier and require less energy during the nighttime hours, the German government became the first nation in modern times to implement Daylight Saving Time.  The results were immediate and indisputable — so much so that in 1918, the United States government followed their enemy’s lead

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Clock in US Capitol Building being set back one hour for daylight saving time during World War I

The idea of moving the clocks forward an hour was highly unpopular in the United States and Congress abolished DST after the war, overriding President Woodrow Wilson’s veto.

It was not until the World War II that the United States tried daylight saving time again, when President Franklin Roosevelt instituted year-round “War Time”, the equivalent of today’s DST.

After the war, there was no federal standard on daylight saving time until 1966 when the Federal government implemented the Uniform Time Act of 1966.

During the 1973 oil embargo by the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries (OAPEC), in an effort to conserve fuel, Congress enacted a trial period of year-round DST, beginning January 6,

1973 Oil crisis

1974, and ending April 27, 1975. The trial was hotly debated. Those in favor pointed to increased daylight hours in the winter evening: more time for recreation, reduced lighting and heating demands, reduced crime, and reduced automobile accidents. The opposition was concerned about children leaving for school in the dark. When the trial ended in 1975, the country returned to observing summer DST.

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