On Sunday, March 8, we set our clocks forward one hour for Daylight Saving Time. This exercise began in the United States in 1918 to conserve coal during World War I. Though it was later abandoned and then revived again during World War II, it was in 1966 that Congress passed the Uniform Time Act, which regulated the length of daylight saving time throughout the country.
But even though most Americans are now familiar with daylight saving time, few know about its history. Here’s a brief overview of how this twice-yearly time change came to be.
The Origins of Daylight Saving Time
Benjamin Franklin first proposed the idea of daylight saving time in an essay entitled “An Economical Project,” published in 1784. In it, he suggested that Parisians could save money on candles if they woke up earlier and used natural light instead. “Let all the houses of [Paris] be lighted every evening,” he wrote, “and none suffered to burn after sun-set; and let every citizen be accordingly employed receiving and conducting them through their several quarters.”
While Franklin’s proposal was not implemented in his lifetime, the underlying idea—that people could make more efficient use of daylight hours by shifting their clocks forward—gained traction over the next century. In 1895, an Englishman named William Willett independently devised a similar proposal. He spent much of his life campaigning for its adoption. His efforts were fruitless, however, and it wasn’t until 1907 that the first modern daylight saving bill was introduced in the British House of Commons by Liberal MP Robert Pearce.
The idea finally began to gain traction in other countries during World War I. In 1916, Germany became the first to adopt daylight saving time to conserve coal reserves, followed shortly after by Austria-Hungary, Denmark, Belgium, and other European nations. The United States first experimented with daylight saving time in 1918 as a wartime measure to conserve coal. It proved so unpopular, however, that it was quickly abandoned after the war ended.
Daylight Saving Time During World War II
Not long after the end of World War I, Britain once again began experimenting with daylight saving time to conserve electricity needed for lighting and heating homes during winter evenings. In 1940, Nazi Germany annexed much of Europe and imposed daylight saving time throughout its occupied territories as part of an effort to coordinate activities across such a large area.
The following year, Britain followed suit and introduced double summertime, which shifted clocks forward two hours from May to September so that people would have more evening light for working in gardens and carrying out other outdoor activities that supported the war effort.
After the war ended in 1945, Britain abandoned double summertime. Still, it continued observing single summertime (one hour forward from March to October). Many other European countries did likewise, but there needed to be a coordinated effort to maintain standardized dates throughout the continent. This situation changed in 1964 when intra-European jet travel became more common. There was a need for a coordinated system, so diplomats from various European nations met in Geneva and agreed upon a plan: Clocks would be set forward one hour on April 26, 1964, at 01:00 local time.
In 1966, Congress passed the Uniform Time Act, which regulated the length of daylight saving time throughout the United States. Today, most Americans are familiar with this twice-yearly time change, though few know about its history. Hopefully, this article has given you a better understanding of where daylight saving time comes from and why we observe it today. Thanks for reading!
A short history of daylight savings, spectrumlocalnews.com