Why daylight saving time?
March 21, 2014
While going through the nuisance of resetting all the clocks and timer-controlled appliances and devices in my house and cars for daylight saving time, I got to wondering how we got stuck with this ordeal twice every year. Where did the wild idea of tinkering with time come from?
It may all be Benjamin Franklin’s fault. In 1784, he advocated arising and retiring an hour earlier because that would save on candles, which at that time were quite expensive. He did not recommend resetting the clocks, however, because that was a much more difficult process then than it is now.
In 1895, George Vernon Hudson, an entomologist in New Zealand, proposed advancing clocks a whole two hours in the summer, which would extend daylight hours for his field observations. Ten years later, William Willett, an avid English horseman and golfer, also wishing to increase daylight hours for his summer activities, proposed moving clocks ahead 80 minutes in 20-minute shifts on four Sundays in April, and reversing the process on four Sundays in September, which was met with a storm of ridicule and opposition. Not surprisingly, nothing came of either of these proposals.
World War I created an increase in the demand for coal, a large portion of which was being used to generate electric power for lighting. In April 1916, Germany and Austria-Hungary adopted daylight saving to reduce lighting use, and Britain did the same the next month. When the U.S. entered the war, it also adopted daylight saving, as part of a law that officially set the four time zones (which had actually been in use since 1883 when they were adopted by the railroads). Daylight saving was largely abandoned after the war by those countries which had adopted it, except for Britain, France, and Canada. Daylight saving in the U.S. was repealed in 1919 because it was unpopular with the large farm population.
After the U.S. entered World War II, it adopted daylight saving year-round from 1942 to 1945, to save energy for the war effort, calling it “War Time.” From 1945 until 1966 there was no nationwide daylight saving. The federal government left it up to the states and municipalities, resulting in a real hodgepodge. Nationwide daylight saving (with options) was resumed in 1966, running from the last Sunday in April to the last Sunday in October. In response to the OPEC-created oil crisis in the 1970s, the start of daylight saving was moved up from the last Sunday in April to the last Sunday in March. Then, in 1986, the start was again changed, this time to the first Sunday in April — until 2007, when the current dates, the second Sunday in March to the first Sunday in November, were adopted. It’s been a moving target that has been hard to keep up with.
At the present time daylight saving time is observed by only about one-quarter of the world’s population, mostly living in North America, Europe, New Zealand, and southeastern Australia. It is no longer observed in China, India, Japan, and Russia, and has never been used in Indonesia and southeast Asia.
Daylight saving originated at a time when incandescent lighting accounted for a sizable segment of electric power consumption, so it had some economic benefit. But times have changed, and fluorescent lamps and LEDs have greatly reduced the amount of electricity used for lighting. A far greater amount of electrical energy is now used for air conditioning than was ever used for lighting, and any economic benefit daylight saving time has had in the past may no longer exist; daylight saving time may actually be increasing energy consumption. So why do we continue to have daylight saving time?
As a skier, I can testify that it has reduced the pleasure of spring skiing. Before daylight saving time invaded March, it usually took until 10:30-11:00 for the snow to soften up from the overnight chill and provide safe enjoyable skiing. Now, under daylight saving time, the snow doesn’t soften until 11:30-noon, so skiers have two choices — ski only half a day, or risk serious injury by skiing before noon on ice. And the heat of summer now has to be endured for another hour.
The ski industry should lobby Congress to either repeal daylight saving time or return it to the last Sundays in April and October, or else simply open and close the lifts an hour later during daylight saving time, which would be like staying on standard time.
— “As I See It” appears on the first and third Thursdays of the month. Hal Sundin lives in Glenwood Springs and is a retired environmental and structural engineer. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.