By Angelica Cullen, Feature Editor Originally published in Issue 9, Volume 33 of The University Register on March 12, 2021
Daylight saving time is coming up this Sunday and clocks in various countries around the world will have to “spring forward” an hour. This seemingly minor change allows for the hours of the day marked by clocks to more accurately reflect the hours of available daylight. The officially marked change occurs in the early hours of the morning so as not to disturb daily life for the majority of people.
What you may not know is how this time-saving practice began. The concept of adjusting time and schedules to better accommodate changing seasons and daylight patterns has been observed in civilizations throughout the ages. One such civilization was Ancient Rome, where water clocks were adjusted every month to be as accurate as possible. Water clocks- also known as clepsydras -are time-keeping devices that function similarly to hourglasses: by measuring the amount of a pourable substance that flows in or out of a container. An entomologist from New Zealand was credited as the first proponent of modern DST when he presented a paper on the subject to the Wellington Philosophical Society in 1895.
The first steps toward the modern idea of DST (Daylight Saving Time) becoming law came in 1905 from an English man named William Willett. He had been enjoying an early morning horse ride near London when it dawned on him that if clocks were set 80 minutes ahead in the spring and summer months, people would be able to enjoy the morning sunlight more frequently as they went about their daily lives. He published a brochure a few years later detailing his theory and even brought the issue up to the British Parliament. However, they repeatedly blocked his proposal and it never saw the light of day during his time, as he died in 1915.
In 1916, Germany took hold of the idea and introduced what they called “Summer time” in order to conserve electricity as well as coal and match the seasonal changes more closely. Other countries in Europe quickly followed and adopted their own versions of DST. The concept was brought to the US with the Standard Time Act of 1918, although it was not popular with people like farmers due to their schedules being dependent on the sun rather than the clock. After the war, the law was abolished and the option to use DST was given to local communities. Many urban cities observed the change, while most rural areas did not. A version of DST that lasted all year was put into law by Franklin Roosevelt in 1942 and lasted for the duration of World War II.
The result of these inconsistent time policies caused a large variety in where DST was being implemented. California and Nevada were the only western states to have a statewide policy as of 1954. According to History.com, “In 1965 there were 23 different pairs of start and end dates in Iowa alone, and St. Paul, Minnesota, even began daylight saving two weeks before its twin city, Minneapolis. Passengers on a 35-mile bus ride from Steubenville, Ohio, to Moundsville, West Virginia, passed through seven time changes.”
In 1966, the transportation industry pushed for the Uniform Time Act to be passed in Congress. DST became the standardized practice for the entire nation. It was decided that clocks would be pushed ahead an hour at 2 a.m. on the last Sunday of April and would be pushed back an hour at 2 a.m. on the last Sunday of October. Arizona and Michigan did not follow this law, however Michigan adopted it with some changes in 1972. Year-round DST was re-enacted in 1974 in a study that was attempting to reduce fuel usage. The program ended in 1975 and the resulting data caused the starting date to be moved in 1986 to the first Sunday in April.
In 2007, the starting date was again moved to the second Sunday in March, with the ending date being moved to the first Sunday in November. The following studies reported that there was a 0.03% increase in electricity savings due to this 2007 change. Starting in 2015, bills have been introduced in various state legislatures that would establish a year-round DST once again. Proponents for the idea say that current lifestyles of the average American do not line up with the need for changing the clocks seasonally.
Image on top courtesy of UW Madison