History of Daylight Savings Time

Daylight Saving Time is a change in the standard time of each time zone. Time zones were first used by the railroads in 1883 to standardize their schedules. According to the The Canadian Encyclopedia Plus by McClelland & Stewart Inc., Canada’s “[Sir Sandford] Fleming also played a key role in the development of a worldwide system of keeping time. Trains had made obsolete the old system where major cities and regions set clocks according to local astronomical conditions.

Fleming advocated the adoption of a standard or mean time and hourly variations from that according to established time zones. He was instrumental in convening an International Prime Meridian Conference in Washington in 1884 at which the system of international standard time — still in use today — was adopted.”

In 1918, the U.S. Congress made the U.S. rail zones official under federal law and gave the responsibility to make any changes to the Interstate Commerce Commission, the only federal transportation regulatory agency at the time. When Congress created the Department of Transportation in 1966, it transferred the responsibility for the time laws to the new department.

The American law by which we turn our clock forward in the spring and back in the fall is known as the Uniform Time Act of 1966. The law does not require that anyone observe Daylight Saving Time; all the law says is that if we are going to observe Daylight Saving Time, it must be done uniformly.

Daylight Saving Time has been around for most of this century and even earlier.

Benjamin Franklin, while a minister to France, first suggested the idea in an essay titled “An Economical Project for Diminishing the Cost of Light.” The essay was first published in the Journal de Paris in April 1784. But it wasn’t for more than a century later that an Englishman, William Willett, suggested it again in 1907.

Willett was reportedly passing by a home where the shades were down, even though the sun was up. He wrote a pamphlet called “The Waste of Daylight” because of his observations.

Willett wanted to move the clock ahead by 80 minutes in four moves of 20 minutes each during the spring and summer months. In 1908, the British House of Commons rejected advancing the clock by one hour in the spring and back again in the autumn.

Willett’s idea didn’t die, and it culminated in the introduction of British Summer Time by an Act of Parliament in 1916. Clocks were put one hour ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) during the summer months.

England recognized that the nation could save energy and changed their
clocks during the first World War.

In 1918, in order to conserve resources for the war effort, the U.S. Congress placed the country on Daylight Saving Time for the remainder of WW I. It was observed for seven months in 1918 and 1919. The law, however, proved so unpopular that it was later repealed.

When America went to war again, Congress reinstated Daylight Saving Time on February 9, 1942. Time in the U.S. was advanced one hour to save energy. It remained advanced one hour forward year-round until September 30, 1945.

In England, the energy saving aspects of Daylight Saving were recognized again during WWII. Clocks were changed two hours ahead of GMT during the summer, which became known as Double Summer Time. But it didn’t stop with the summer. During the war, clocks remained one hour ahead of GMT though the winter.

From 1945 to 1966, there was no U.S. law about Daylight Saving Time. So, states and localities were free to observe Daylight Saving Time or not.

This, however, caused confusion — especially for the broadcasting industry, and for trains and buses. Because of the different local customs and laws, radio and TV stations and the transportation companies had to publish new schedules every time a state or town began or ended Daylight Saving Time.

By 1966, some 100 million Americans were observing Daylight Saving Time through their own local laws and customs. Congress decided to step in end the confusion and establish one pattern across the country. The Uniform Time Act of 1966 (15 U.S. Code Section 260a) created Daylight Saving Time to begin on the last Sunday of April and to end on the last Sunday of October. Any area that wanted to be exempt from Daylight Saving Time could do so by passing a local ordinance. The law was amended in 1986 to begin Daylight Saving Time on the first Sunday in April.

Embargo Changes Daylight Saving Time

Following the 1973 Arab Oil Embargo, Congress put most of the nation on extended Daylight Saving Time for two years in hopes of saving additional energy. This experiment worked, but Congress did not continue the experiment in 1975 because of opposition — mostly from the farming states.

In 1974, Daylight Saving Time lasted ten months and lasted for eight months in 1975, rather than the normal six months (then, May to October). The U.S. Department of Transportation — which has jurisdiction over Daylight Saving Time in the U.S. — studied the results of the experiment. It concluded:

Daylight Saving Time saves energy. Based on consumption figures for 1974 and 1975, The Department of Transportation says observing Daylight Saving Time in March and April saved the equivalent in energy of 10,000 barrels of oil each day — a total of 600,000 barrels in each of those two years. California Energy Commission studies confirm a saving of about one percent per day.

Daylight Saving Time saves lives and prevents traffic injuries. The earlier Daylight Saving Time allowed more people to travel home from work and school in daylight, which is much safer than darkness. And except for the months of November through February, Daylight Saving Time does not increase the morning hazard for those going to school and work.

Daylight Saving Time prevents crime. Because people get home from work and school and complete more errands and chores in daylight, Daylight Saving Time also seems to reduce people’s exposure to various crimes, which are more common in darkness than in light.

The Department of Transportation estimated that 50 lives were saved and about 2,000 injuries were prevented in March and April of the study years. The department also estimated that $28 million was saved in traffic accident costs.

Newer studies, however, reportedly challenge the earlier claims of safety and crime prevention under DST. Further research probably is warranted.

Congress and President Reagan Change Daylight Saving Time
Daylight Saving Time was changed slightly in 1986 when President Reagan signed Public Law 99-359. It changed Daylight Saving Time from the last Sunday in April to the first Sunday in April. No change was made to the ending date of the last Sunday in October.

This was done ostensibly to conserve energy during the month of April. Adding the entire month of April is estimated to save nationwide about 300,000 barrels of oil each year.

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