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The history behind Daylight Savings time

By Daniel Donnelly ‘19

Staff Writer


It’s that time of year again when the days are shorter and it’s dark in the morning during the work commute. Although Daylight Savings began with the goal of conserving fuel during war times, it was influenced by the ideas of William Willet whose goal was to increase the enjoyment of sunlight, according to reporter Olivia Waxman of Time Magazine. Willet would lobby Parliament and England and Germany would eventually pass it.

Daylight Savings Time has been in effect since World War I by the United States and European countries. It’s initial purpose was to reduce consumption of energy to produce electric power during World War I. At the time, Germany and Austria advanced time by one hour to accomplish this. Other countries including France, Italy, Norway and Sweden also adopted the practice. Eventually Britain and Australia would follow. The United States finally came on board in 1918. The change proved itself to be unpopular with citizens and was eventually repealed  in 1919 with a congressional override of the president’s veto. It then became a local option and continued in some New England states. It also continued in some cities including Chicago, New York and Philadelphia.

During World War II, from 1942 to 1945, Franklin Delano Roosevelt began a program named “War Time” that was a year round daylight savings time during World War II, according to webexibits.org  after 1945,  there was no federal law regarding daylight savings time through 1966, states were free to determine usage, start dates and end dates. This led to confusion for many industries including airlines, railways, bus companies and the broadcasting industry that relied on schedules. Radio, TV and transportation companies had to disseminate a wide variety of divergent schedules.

During the 60’s Daylight Savings Time was very inconsistent varying state by state. The nation’s timekeeper, The Interstate Commerce Commission remained immobilized and the issue was deadlocked. Many businesses were open to its standardization though the issue remained divisive between the indoor and outdoor theater industries. The movie industry opposed it as they reasoned viewers wouldn’t go into theaters when it was sunny outside, rerouted the Time Magazine. The farmers were opposed to it because it reduced the key morning time to harvest crops. Each farmer had a different standard and set of rules that they followed. State and local governments were divisive on the issue depending on local conditions. In the 70’s Nixon signed into law the Emergency Daylight Savings Time Energy Conservation Act of 1973. Later in 1974 the act was implemented and the clocks were set ahead.

The transportation industry and the Committee of Time Uniformity both encouraged efforts at standardization. They surveyed the nation by questioning telephone operators about local time and found the matter to be really confusing. The Committee’s next goal was to get a strong supportive story on the front page of the New York Times newspaper. They rallied the general public’s support and their goal was accomplished despite one consequence that every bus driver and passenger on route 2 which was a 35 mile highway from Ohio to West Virginia had to experience seven time changes.

In 1966 congress finally decided to intervene and end the confusion by establishing one pattern across the country. The Uniform Time Act of 1966 signed into law by president Lyndon B. Johnson set Daylight Savings Time to begin on the last Sunday of April and end on the last Sunday of October. Any state that wanted to be exempt from Daylight Savings Time could do so by passing their own state law. The Uniform Time Act of 1966 established a Uniform system within each time zone throughout the U.S. and its territories. The only states that were exempted from this were the states in which their legislatures voted to keep the whole state on standard time.

In the 70’s Congress revised the law so that if a state has more than one time zone, than the state could exempt in one time zone while allowing the other to observe Daylight Savings Time. The Energy Policy Act of 2005 extended Daylight Savings Time in the United States. Beginning in 2007 though congress held onto the right to revert to the 1986 law if it proved unpopular or if energy savings were significant. From 2007 onward Daylight Savings Time would begin at 2:00 am on the second Sunday of March and end at 2:00 a.m. on the first Sunday of November. European countries in western Europe and others that were apart of the EU would have Daylight Savings Time begin at 1:00am on the last Sunday of March and end at 1:00am on the last Sunday of October. Elsewhere in the world, observance of Daylight Savings Time are highly variable depending on where you live.  

According to Time Magazine, the intent of Daylight Savings and its ability to reduce energy consumption is being reconsidered. Although extra daylight is enjoyable, further studies are required to conclude whether daylight savings time reduces energy consumption.