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October 26, 2004 > Daylight Saving Time

Daylight Saving Time

by Ceri Hitchcock-Hodgson

Have you ever wondered why we "spring forward, fall back"? Just look up to the sky and you will find the answer.

Time has, and always will be guided by the sun. The implementation of Daylight Saving Time was first suggested in 1784 by Benjamin Franklin in his political satire, "Turkey versus Eagle, McCauley is my Beagle." Daylight Saving Time was a witty way to encourage people to extend their waking hours and productivity. The first person to seriously propose Daylight Saving Time was William Willett in the "Waste of Daylight" (1907). Unfortunately, Willett was unable to get the British government to adopt the concept despite considerable lobbying. It would be another 10 years for Daylight Saving Time to be taken seriously.

World War I was a time of rationing and, in an effort to conserve the fuel needed to produce electric power, Germany and Austria began saving daylight at 11 p.m. on April 30, 1916 by advancing the hands of the clock one hour until the following October.

Other countries in Europe including Belgium, Denmark, France, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Sweden, and Turkey immediately followed this 1916 action. Britain followed suit three weeks later on May 21, 1916.

The plan was not formally adopted in the United States until 1918 when "An Act to preserve daylight and provide standard time for the United States" was enacted on March 19th. The law established standard time zones and set summer Daylight Saving Time to begin on March 31, 1918 for the remainder of WW I.

Daylight Saving Time was observed for a period of seven months in 1918 and 1919. The law, however, proved so unpopular (mostly because people rose earlier and went to bed earlier than we do today) that the law was repealed in 1919 over President Wilson's veto. It became a local option, continuing in a few states (Massachusetts, Rhode Island) and some cities (New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, and others).

During World War II, President Roosevelt reinstituted year-round Daylight Saving Time, calling it "War Time" (from 2 February 1942 to 30 September 1945). From 1945 to 1966, there was no federal law regarding Daylight Saving Time. States and localities were free to choose whether or not to observe Daylight Saving Time and could determine when it began and ended. This caused confusion, especially for the broadcasting industry, and for railways, airlines, and bus companies. Due to 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 and end the confusion by establishing one pattern across the country. The Uniform Time Act of 1966 provided the basic framework for alternating between Daylight Saving Time and Standard Time, which we now observe in the United States.
The confusion continued however since some localities chose not to abide by the new law. In 1973, following the Arab Oil Embargo, Congress put most of the nation on extended Daylight Saving Time for two years hoping to save energy. This attempt was unsuccessful because of an increased number of school bus accidents in the morning hours.

On January 4, 1974, President Nixon signed into law the Daylight Saving Time Energy Act and on January 6th of the same year, the Daylight Saving Time Energy Act was implemented; clocks were set ahead for a fifteen-month period through April 27 1975.

In 1986, President Reagan altered the first start of Daylight Savings Time with Public Law 99-359 changing it from the last Sunday in April to the first Sunday in April. Daylight Saving Time always ends on the last Sunday of October.
Today, Arizona, with the exception of the Navajo Indian Reservation, Hawaii, and the territories of Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and America Samoa do not observe Daylight Saving Time, remaining on "standard time" throughout the year. The sunny climate of these areas makes it unnecessary to add an extra hour of sunlight during the winter months.

Then there is Indiana. The Hoosier State's unique system for observing daylight time is rooted in its once farming-dominated economy. Farmers prefer early daylight to dry their fields and an early sunset to end their work at a reasonable hour. Under the current system, 77 of the state's 92 counties are in the Eastern Time Zone but do not change to daylight time in April. Instead they remain on standard time all year. That is, except for two counties near Cincinnati, Ohio, and Louisville, Kentucky, which do observe Daylight Saving Time. Counties in the northwest corner of the state (near Chicago) and the southwestern tip (near Evansville) are in the Central Time Zone and use both standard and daylight time.

Other parts of the world observe Daylight Saving Time as well. While European nations have been taking advantage of the time change for decades, in 1996 the European Union (EU) standardized an EU-wide "summertime period." The EU version of Daylight Saving Time runs from the last Sunday in March through the last Sunday in October. In the winter months of Russia, which spans over 11 time zones, clocks are always one hour ahead of standard time. In the summer, Russians turn their clocks ahead an additional hour.

In Canada, every province observes Daylight Saving Time except Saskatchewan, which remains on standard time all year long. Our neighbor to the South, Mexico, adopted the time change in 1996 and all three Mexican time zones are now on the same schedule as the most of the United States.

Most countries near the equator do not deviate from standard time. In the Southern Hemisphere, where summer arrives in what we in the Northern Hemisphere consider the winter months, DST is observed from late October to late March.
Three large regions in Australia do not participate in DST: Western Australia, the Northern Territory, and Queensland stay on standard time all year. The remaining south central and southeastern sections of the continent (where Sydney and Melbourne are found) observe the time change.

China, which spans five time zones, is always eight hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time and does not observe DST. There is no Daylight Saving Time in Japan.
Fire safety officials in the United States encourage citizens to use the two annual time changes as a reminder to check the batteries in home and office fire alarms and smoke detectors.

So remember, on Halloween night, when trick-or-treating is over and you're ready to hit the sack, "Spring forward, fall back."

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