A Brief History of Daylight Saving Time

It’s almost time to spring forward again as we jump from 2:00 am to 3:00 am this Sunday, March 12. Though we gain coveted long summer days, we lose an hour of sleep in the process. Sure, we’ll gain it back in November, but that doesn’t help ease the next morning’s pain. Many on Sunday morning will be asking, “why?” Lend an ear (or, more accurately, your eyes) and we’ll tell you!

Wartime Necessity

Despite popular belief, History Channel sets the record straight that daylight saving time did not originate to assist farmers, but rather to save money during wartime. Though first implemented by Germany during World War I to conserve electricity, the United States of America followed suit for the same reasons in 1918. In an interview with Michael Downing, author of Spring Forward: The Annual Madness of Daylight Saving Time, Downing tells Time Magazine farmers actually lost morning hours of work as a result of daylight saving time and actively lobbied against the policy. The change cost them manual labor (hired help worked less, coming into work later, but leaving at the same time for dinner) and made it difficult to meet dairy shipment times as their cows weren’t ready to be milked an hour earlier. The country may have jumped forward an hour, but the cows certainly didn’t. As opponents of the time change have said, “Cows don’t know what time it is.”

Though disliked by farmers, the wartime law did have supporters, Downing told Time. The Chamber of Commerce and outdoor recreational groups advocated for the policy due to increased revenue. More daylight hours after work meant more people shopping and partaking in outdoor activities. Despite their support, the policy was repealed following the war (much to the joy of farmers and cows everywhere).

“Excuse me sir, do you have the time?”

While there was no longer a federal law in place enacting daylight saving time, some cities and states chose to continue jumping forward and back in the spring and fall. Large, prominent cities like New York and Chicago remained on daylight saving hours. Rural, farming communities unsurprisingly did not follow suit and returned to what was the norm before the war. As a result, rural communities and cities began having differing time zones no matter their distance from one another.

In 1942, World War II brought another nationwide daylight saving policy and, for a short time, the country was all on the same page again – until the war ended. Once again, rural communities reverted back, while larger cities continued on daylight saving time. Even cities following daylight saving hours managed to cause confusion by having different start and end dates for the time change. Some cities started daylight saving time weeks before others. In fact, according to the History Channel, by the mid-1960’s the state of Iowa had 23 different pairs of start and end dates for jumping forward and back. Traveling in the United States became a nightmare as times in one city failed to match times in others.

About Time: The Fix

Finally, after decades of confusion, the Uniform Time Act was enacted under President Lyndon B. Johnson. The law required whole states to either opt in or out of a set six months (from the last Sunday of April to the last Sunday of October) of daylight saving time hours. Since then, daylight saving time has expanded from six months to eight; this year we jump forward in mid-March and will not fall back until November 5.

While the majority of states do opt in to daylight saving hours, Hawaii and Arizona (except for the Navajo Nation) do not. Arizona Central explains the state attempted daylight saving hours for one summer and quickly found that in a state that reaches high temperatures, more hours of sunlight was not wise. Hawaii opted out, not due to extreme heat like Arizona, but rather its proximity to the equator made daylight saving time superfluous as their sunrises and sunsets don’t vary much by season.

Though initiated to save energy, History Channel and Time Magazine both report that the time change may not have a significant impact. Though electricity costs have gone down in the form of lighting, air conditioners and heaters are used more for warm summer evenings and cold fall mornings. Longer daylight hours tend to benefit some industries (shops and outdoor activities) while harming others that involve early mornings. For the time being, there is no definitive answer and, regardless of its debated usefulness, daylight saving time will still begin this Sunday.

Sources: Arizona CentralBeat of, and Time Magazine.


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