The True History of Daylight Savings Time

Each spring, people in several countries throughout the world set their clocks forwards, usually by one hour. In the coming fall, these same people turn their clocks in the opposite direction, typically backwards by one hour. This seems like a rather redundant change, and yet this altercation actually holds a designated purpose. Called Daylight Savings Time (DST), this systematic, seasonal change aims to maximize daytime productivity and conserve unnecessary energy usage.

Daylight Savings Around the World

The time of this change varies for different countries based on their geographic proximity to the equator. In the United States of America, clocks shift forwards on the second Sunday of March, losing an hour, and they shift backwards on the first Sunday in November, gaining an hour. In the United Kingdom, clocks shift backwards on the last Sunday of March and shift forwards on the last Sunday of October. Still, large parts of Asia and Africa don’t change their clocks at all. There are countries that formerly implemented Daylight Savings Time and quit the practice. The implementation of Daylight Savings Time is not uniform across the entire world and there are several arguments existing against it.

Daylight Savings Concerns

Some people suggest that Daylight Savings Time is no longer as useful as it once might have been. In modern-day society, the attempt to save energy by increasing daylight during daily activity is negligible as electronic inventions such as computers, air conditioners, internet, and TV utilize energy regardless of whether it is light outside or not. Others describe Daylight Savings Time as disruptive to human circadian rhythms. Studies link the loss of an hour to more frequent heart attacks and decreased productivity. With such arguments against Daylight Savings Time, it becomes important to understand why Daylight Savings Time exists in the first place.

The History of Daylight Savings

To truly understand Daylight Savings Time and how so many countries came to adopt it in the first place, we must understand the history behind it’s development and how it came to be popularized.

In ancient civilizations, it was common to rely on the sun to determine time, an example being Egyptian sundials. The idea of Daylight Savings Time, increasing productivity through daylight usage, however, was not introduced into more modern society until much later.

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Some credit Benjamin Franklin for Daylight Savings Time, but this is a misconception. In spring 1784, Franklin merely suggested in a somewhat sarcastic essay that Parisians wake themselves earlier to save money on candles.

The true inventor of Daylight Savings Time was entomologist George Vernon Hudson. In 1895, Hudson suggested a two hour shift forwards in October and a two hour shift backwards in March. He presented this idea in a paper to the Wellington Philosophical Society and while it was considered, it was never actually implemented. The idea went further into reality after British builder William Willett proposed pushing clocks forward by 20 minutes on each Sunday in April and pushing clocks backwards by 20 minutes on each Sunday in September.

Introduced in 1905, Willett’s proposal was well-received by British Parliament Member Robert Pearce. In February 1908, Pearce introduced the bill to the House of Commons. In 1909, Parliament viewed the first Daylight Savings Bill and examined it in committee. Many people, notably farmers, disliked the idea and it wasn’t implemented at the time.

At the same time, however, Canadians in Ontario changed their clocks forward on July 1, 1908 marking the start of the first Daylight Savings Time period. Other Canadians soon followed suit. While Canada adopted Daylight Savings Time earliest, the practice didn’t grow in popularity until Germany and Austria introduced the idea in 1916. Rather than wasting artificial light, the objective of Daylight Savings Time was to save energy for World War I efforts.

A year after Willett’s death in 1915, his proposal came true. In May of 1916, the United Kingdom decided to implement Daylight Savings Time. France and many other countries also made the same decision. After the war, Daylight Savings Time was replaced with the original, standard time and it would not be popularized again until World War II.

Daylight Savings Time Today

Overtime, Daylight Savings Time has come a long way and continues to be implemented to varying extents throughout the world. Despite disagreeing opinions, Daylight Savings Time continues to change the clocks twice each year in many countries, including the United States.