Clock Talk: The Story Behind Daylight Saving Time

| March 8, 2019

VENANGO CO., Pa. (EYT) – For those who are looking forward to that extra hour of daylight, the time is coming soon: Daylight Saving Time begins this weekend.

(Photo by Dave Cyphert of ProPoint Media Photography)

At 2:00 a.m. on March 10, the majority of Americans will be “springing forward” by turning their clocks forward an hour, giving people that extra dose of daylight in the afternoon.

This annual small jump forward in time may make those longing for some extra daylight happy, but others find it an antiquated practice, and question its place in 21st-century life.

To understand both sides of the issue, it’s best to start at the beginning, with the origins of Daylight Saving Time.

(Editor’s Note: Yes, the proper name is Daylight Saving Time, not Daylight Savings Time)

The History

While many people may be familiar with the story of Ben Franklin proposing Daylight Saving Time long before it was actually implemented in the United States, the history of the contemporary practice was actually based on a proposal by an entomologist, a scientist who studies insects, from New Zealand.

According to National Geographic, George Hudson came up with the basis for the modern concept of Daylight Saving Time in 1895, proposing a two-hour shift, seeking more hours of afternoon daylight to hunt for insects.

The same general concept was proposed to England’s Parliament in 1902 by British builder William Willett who came up with his version of the idea while horseback riding. Willett’s idea found notable support from Winston Churchill and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle but was ultimately rejected by the British Government, though Willet continued arguing in support of the concept until his death in 1915.

While Willet’s idea may have been rejected in England, it found its first foothold in an unexpected place: the halls of the German government during World War I. In 1916, as the war raged, the German government was seeking ways to conserve energy when Willet’s concept was brought to the table and accepted.

Shortly thereafter, England, the United States, and a number of other countries involved in the war followed suit. It was officially signed into law in the United States by President Woodrow Wilson in 1918.

The Reasoning

Initially, in Germany, the concept behind Daylight Saving Time was meant to help conserve energy. As coal power was the primary energy source at the time, it was believed that more hours of daylight meant burning less coal, saving energy to contribute to the war effort.

However, whether or not the expected energy savings from Daylight Saving Time actually exist is a topic fraught with contradictory findings. According to Live Science, research on the topic is mixed, with some studies even finding that daylight saving time may boost energy consumption.

While many people also cite the reason behind the time change as a way to help farmers with crops and harvesting, the truth is this was a myth created by the Chamber of Commerce to garner support for the concept. Farmers in the United States were mainly against Daylight Saving Time, so much so, in fact, that they lobbied against it. According to Marketplace, the farming lobby was so heavily against the concept, they kept peacetime daylight saving law from being implemented in the U.S. until 1966.

The Implementation

The implementation of Daylight Saving Time is another complicated topic. While it was officially adopted in the U.S. as part of the Uniform Time Act of 1966, the law did not require that all states comply.

Hawaii chose to abandon Daylight Saving Time in 1967, as its location makes the practice rather unnecessary, considering the sun rises and sets at nearly the same time throughout the year.

Arizona chose to drop Daylight Saving Time in 1968, citing a surfeit of sunlight. However, things get far more complicated within the state, as the Navajo Nation, which covers part of northeastern Arizona, does observe Daylight Saving Time, and the Hopi Reservation, which is surrounded entirely by the Navajo Nation, does not. As if that weren’t confusing enough, within the Hopi Reservation sits another small slice of the Navajo Nation that does observe Daylight Saving Time.

Generally, it’s probably best to ask a local for the time when visiting in Arizona.

Traveling out through the U.S. territories, you’ll also find many places that don’t observe Daylight Saving Time, including the commonwealths of Puerto Rico and the Northern Marina Islands; the U.S. Virgin Islands; American Samoa; and Guam.

The Impacts

While the benefits of Daylight Saving Time are questionable, the negative impacts have begun to receive more attention in recent years.

According to Insider Health, Daylight Saving Time has been linked to sleep deprivation, decreased mental health, increased suicide rates, increased cardiovascular conditions, and increases in car accidents and workplace injuries.

The Future

While Daylight Saving Time has been a constant in most of the United States since 1966, whether or not it will remain that way is yet to be seen.

Bills to eliminate Daylight Saving Time have been introduced this year in Texas, Maine, New Mexico, Idaho, Wyoming, and Arkansas. Even Mexico City is considering dropping the practice.

In Pennsylvania, Representative Russ Diamond (R) of Lebanon County is leading the charge against Daylight Saving Time. In a memorandum to House members dated March 4, 2019, Diamond stated his intent to introduce legislation to “permanently place Pennsylvania on Eastern Standard Time and end the outdated ritual of ‘springing forward and falling back.'”

Diamond wrote in the memorandum: “Daylight Saving Time (DST), launched during World War I as an attempt to save energy, has outlived its usefulness.”

“In fact, there are more negative side effects from changing clocks than benefits. Studies have shown that automobile accidents, workplace injuries, heart attacks, strokes, cluster headaches, miscarriages, depression, and suicides all increase in the weeks following clock changes. These government-mandated interruptions of natural biological rhythms and sleep cycles can wreak havoc on job performance, academic results, and overall physical/mental health.”

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio is thinking even bigger. He introduced the Sunshine Protection Act of 2019 this week to make Daylight Saving Time year-round by having Americans set their clocks ahead one hour and keep them there permanently, giving everyone an extra hour of sunlight in the evening throughout the entire year.

This Year

While it seems that some lawmakers may be ready to do away with annual time changes, any changes in legislation will come too late to affect this spring’s leap forward.

Daylight Saving Time begins at 2:00 a.m. this Sunday morning, so don’t forget to turn your watches, alarms, and microwaves forward an hour, and perhaps think about going to bed a little early to make up for that lost hour of sleep.

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Category: Local News, News