Saving Daylight By Springing Up And Falling Back Through Time

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History: Daylight Savings Time
By Robert Matsumura, Contributing Writer

Architect of Daylight
George Hudson

Spring forward, fall back is a saying many of us are familiar with as a reminder to move the clocks forward one hour in the springtime, and back one hour in the fall. Despite your feelings about the subject — for or against the mandated biannual time change — have you ever wondered how daylight saving came about in the first place?

Benjamin Franklin is frequently cited as the original proponent of the daylight saving concept when, as the American envoy to France, he satirically proposed in a letter to the “Journal of Paris” that Parisians could save money on candles by waking up earlier, thereby more effectively utilizing natural light. While Franklin’s letter may be the earliest recorded evidence of the concept, others proposed the same idea, but for different reasons.

Architect of Daylight
William Willet

New Zealander George Hudson, an entomologist, proposed in 1895 that the clock be forwarded by two hours in order to provide additional daylight to pursue his study of insects during the summer. In 1902, an Englishman by the name of William Willett — who incidentally was the great-great-grandfather of Chris Martin of the band Coldplay — was struck with the daylight saving notion while out riding his horse. Willett went so far as to propose the concept to Parliament as a way for Great Britain to more efficiently utilize daylight. Despite the support of such luminaries as Winston Churchill and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the idea never gained sufficient traction in Parliament for passage into law.

It wasn’t until World War I that a nation actually passed the concept of daylight saving into law. Germany, desperate to conserve energy during wartime, was familiar with Willett’s efforts in Britain regarding the subject. Unlike the British who rejected the concept, the Germans wasted no time implementing the policy of daylight saving into law. Sadly, Willett, who had championed the daylight saving concept till his death in 1915, never lived to see it put into effect. He likely would have felt vindicated when almost every country that fought in World War I — including England — implemented daylight saving as national policy in the years that followed.

In step with its European counterparts, the United States, in 1916, also enacted legislation to conserve energy via daylight savings. Along with daylight savings, Congress also enacted the Standard Time Act which split the nation up into different time zones. During an era when U.S. energy consumption was highly dependent on coal, the policy was indeed an effective measure to conserve the precious resource during wartime. At the end of the war, however, the daylight saving time part of the act was repealed.

Daylight Savings Promotion

In February 1942, with the advent of World War II, Congress again reinstated daylight saving time in an effort to conserve fuel and aid with national security and defense. In fact, daylight saving time was commonly referred to as “War Time,” with the time zones referred to as Eastern War Time, Pacific War Time and such. Once again, at the war’s end the law was repealed, but this time it was left up to the individual states to determine their own standard time. No rules were stipulated regarding daylight saving time, however, which for the next two decades was problematic for both the broadcast media and transportation industries, as one might imagine. It wasn’t until 1966 that Congress passed the Uniform Time Act which established both a national standard time and set daylight saving time to be in effect from the last Sunday in April to the last Sunday in October. A few changes to the law were enacted during the Bush Administration during 2005. These changes, in effect today, extended daylight saving time from the second Sunday in March to the first Sunday in November. Even though daylight saving time was a federal mandate, it did still permit individual states to opt out by passage of state laws.

Two states that have opted out are Hawaii and Arizona. The state of Hawaii chose to disregard daylight saving time altogether due to an abundance of daylight. In Arizona, where summers are blazing hot with temperatures frequently in the 100s, residents value the cool night-time hours over daylight as it affords them more time outdoors. Complicating things further in Arizona, the Navajo nation, unlike the rest of the state, has chosen to abide by daylight saving time. The Hopi nation, on the other hand, which happens to be completely surrounded by the Navajo nation, has chosen, like the rest of the state, to ignore it. So, should you be traveling through northeastern Arizona, where the Navajo and Hopi nations reside, you might find it a bit perplexing trying to establish the time of day.

On the other side of the spectrum, politicians from Florida have proposed the Sunshine Protection Act which effectively would make daylight saving time the official time for the state, thereby doing away with standard time altogether. However, in order for this act to be formally enacted as a law, congressional approval is required on a federal level. As of 2022, the Senate has voted to support the new legislation, but the House of Representatives has yet to sign off on it. Should the legislation be approved by both the Senate and the House, it will then proceed to President Biden for his signature. As to whether the president would support the act is still undetermined.

Some critics of daylight saving time cite studies that suggest the transition back from daylight saving time is connected with a higher risk of heart attack and an uptick in automobile accident fatalities. David Prerau, the author of “Seize the Daylight: The Curious and Contentious Story of Daylight Saving Time,” explains that these cited effects are likely the result of sleep deprivation and interruptions in circadian rhythms. However, such conditions are of a short term nature and in his opinion, don’t outweigh the benefits of extra daylight.

As to the future of both standard and daylight saving time, the outcome is yet to be determined. One thing is certain, though, the next time you go to change your clock, remember that daylight saving time wasn’t just Ben Franklin’s idea, but also that of a New Zealand entomologist, Chris Martin’s great grandpa, and wartime energy conservation policies. Whether you’re for or against this biannual event, know that you’re not alone — no matter which side of the equation you fall on.

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