History of Daylight Saving Time – DST

Today, Daylight Saving Time (DST) is used to save energy and make better use of daylight. The idea has been suggested in ancient times and later by famous scientists.

Business watch and one hundred dollar bill
Benjamin Franklin suggested waking up earlier.
©iStockphoto.com/Oleg Shipov
DST is a change in the standard time with the purpose of making better use of daylight and conserving energy.

Clocks are set ahead one hour when DST starts. This means that the sunrise and sunset will be one hour later, on the clock, than the day before.

Sunrise & Sunset in my city

Ancient Civilizations
Although DST has only been used for about 100 years, the idea was conceived many years before. Ancient civilizations are known to have engaged in a practice similar to modern DST where they would adjust their daily schedules to the Sun’s schedule. For example, the Roman water clocks used different scales for different months of the Year.

Benjamin Franklin
American inventor and politician Benjamin Franklin wrote an essay called “An Economical Project for Diminishing the Cost of Light” to the editor of The Journal of Paris in 1784. In the essay, he suggested, although jokingly, that Parisians could economize candle usage by getting people out of bed earlier in the morning, making use of the natural morning light instead.

George Vernon Hudson
A major contributor to the invention of DST was New Zealand entomologist George Vernon Hudson. In 1895, Hudson presented a paper to the Wellington Philosophical Society, proposing a two-hour shift forward in October and a two-hour shift back in March.

Seasons are opposite in the Earth’s two hemispheres

Hudson followed up his proposal with an article in 1898, and although there was interest in the idea, it was never followed through.

William Willett
Independently from Hudson, British builder William Willett proposed the introduction of DST in 1905. He suggested setting the clocks ahead 20 minutes on each of the four Sundays in April, and switching them back by the same amount on each of the four Sundays in September, a total of eight DST switches per year.

Willett’s Daylight Saving plan caught the attention of Robert Pearce who introduced a bill to the House of Commons in February 1908. The first Daylight Saving Bill was drafted in 1909, presented to Parliament several times and examined by a select committee. However, the idea was opposed by many, especially farmers, and thus the bill was never made into a law. Willett died in 1915 without getting the chance to see his idea come to life.

DST first used in Europe
Germany was the first country to implement DST. Clocks there were first turned forward at 11:00 p.m. (23:00) on April 30, 1916.

DST history in Europe

The rationale was to minimize the use of artificial lighting in order to save fuel for the war effort during World War I. The idea was quickly followed by Britain and many other countries, including the United States. Many countries reverted back to standard time post-World War I. It wasn’t until the next World War that DST made its return in many countries in order to save vital energy resources for the war.

History of DST in the United States
In the U.S., Daylight Saving Time – or “fast time”, as it was called then – was first introduced in 1918 when President Woodrow Wilson signed it into law to support the war effort during World War I. The initiative was sparked by Robert Garland, a Pittsburgh industrialist who had encountered the idea in the United Kingdom. A passionate campainer for the use of DST in the United States, he is often called the “father of Daylight Saving”.

Seasonal time change was repealed just seven months later. However, some cities – including Pittsburgh, Boston, and New York – continued to use it until President Franklin D. Roosevelt instituted year-round DST in the United States in 1942.

“War Time” in the U.S.
Year-round DST, also called “War Time”, was in force during World War II, from February 9, 1942 to September 30, 1945. The change was implemented 40 days after the bombing of Pearl Harbor and during this time, the U.S. time zones were called “Eastern War Time”, “Central War Time”, and “Pacific War Time”. After the surrender of Japan in mid-August 1945, the time zones were relabeled “Peace Time”.

Britain applied “Double Summer Time” during World War II by setting the clocks two hours ahead of GMT during the summer and one hour ahead of GMT during the winter.

Modern DST in the U.S.
In the United States, DST caused widespread confusion from 1945 to 1966 for trains, buses and the broadcasting industry because states and localities were free to choose when and if they would observe DST. Congress decided to end the confusion and establish the Uniform Time Act of 1966 that stated DST would begin on the last Sunday of April and end on the last Sunday of October. However, states still had the ability to be exempt from DST by passing a local ordinance.

The U.S. Congress extended DST to a period of ten months in 1974 and eight months in 1975, in hopes to save energy following the 1973 oil embargo. The trial period showed that DST saved the energy equivalent of 10,000 barrels of oil each day, but DST still proved to be controversial. Many complained that the dark winter mornings endangered the lives of children going to school. After the energy crisis was over in 1976, the U.S. changed their DST schedule again to begin on the last Sunday in April. DST was amended again to begin on the first Sunday in April in 1987. Further changes were made after the introduction of the Energy Policy Act of 2005.

Daylight Saving or Savings?

Daylight Saving Today
DST aka Daylight Savings Time is now in use in over 70 countries worldwide and affects over a billion people every year. The beginning and end dates vary from one country to another. The European Union adopted the “Summer Time” period that was used in the United Kingdom for many years, where DST begins on the last Sunday in March and ends on the last Sunday in October.

DST changes in the U.S. (Washington DC)
DST changes in the United Kingdom (London)
DST changes in Europe (Paris)
The DST schedule in the U.S. was revised several times throughout the years. From 1987 to 2006, the country observed DST for about seven months each year. The current schedule was introduced in 2007 and follows the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which extended the period by about one month. Today, DST starts on the second Sunday in March and ends on the first Sunday in November. Currently, most of the United States observes DST except for Hawaii and most of Arizona, as well as the U.S. insular areas of Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, and Guam.

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