A Brief History of (the Despised) Daylight Saving Time

Don’t blame it on farmers.

A Brief History of (the Despised) Daylight Saving Time

Don’t blame it on farmers.

Daylight saving time (DST) is magic. By cutting an hour off the end of the day and putting it at the beginning, we actually gain 14 hours of usable time. Our hair becomes healthier, our glutes more pert and firm, and we get the love we deserve. No, wait. Actually it’s temporal spite cooked up in a lab by a group of malcontents who applaud at movie screens and click “Dislike” on videos of sleeping cats falling off window sills. To see how this ordeal came to be, here’s a brief history of (the despised) daylight saving time.

First, Grammar Check

Daylight saving time is frequently called “daylight savings time.” If you want to see why this is incorrect, remember: it’s saving daylight, not savings daylight.

A Brief History of (the Despised) Daylight Saving Time

Let There Be Light

Some people will claim that Benjamin “I hate sleep” Franklin is the person who first invented daylight saving time. This is mostly untrue. In 1784, Franklin did indeed make the suggestion about changing clocks to accommodate daylight. While he was living in France, where all the great ideas originate, Franklin wrote a letter to the Journal of Paris saying that doing more things during daylight hours would save on the expense of candles. Maybe he just hated the smell of Cinnamon Botanical Pumpkin Spice Medley his girlfriend kept burning no matter how much he sneezed. However, this was done in jest. He also claimed that Parisians all sleep until noon and suggested taxing window shutters. 

The idea was rejected then, and again in 1909 by the British House of Commons, where good sense comes from. But, like any infernal villain, it waited patiently for its chance to strike.

Oh, Come On, Canada

The first place that actually put daylight saving into effect was, naturally, Canada. In 1908, Fort Arthur and Port William in Ontario put on their flowing Doctor Who scarves, declared themselves Time Lords, and changed the clocks. It didn’t really catch on, because it’s Canada and if everyone listened to them, money would all be called Loonies. However, it was the snowball that would start the avalanche.

A Brief History of (the Despised) Daylight Saving Time
George P. Lewis via wikimedia commons

The Sleepless Beast Arises

In 1914 there was apparently some great kerfuffle that started over in Europe. During this, many nations adopted a time shift suspiciously similar to daylight saving time. The idea was to conserve precious fuels and other scarce resources. In 1918, the United States became one of these places when it instituted the Calder Act.

The Calder Act lasted seven exhausting months before it was repealed. But some places just kept doing it like moths returning to the flame that burned their exhausted eyes.

Daylight Needs Saving, Again

In the 1940s, Europe had the Great Kerfuffle part II: Nazi Boogaloo going on. Again, to help conserve precious oil being used for light, President Franklin Roosevelt implemented “War Time” which was a nice way of saying Be Sleepy for America. This went from February of 1942 until September of 1945. At least, at the federal level. Then the states started singing their songs of sedition and some of them started slowly driving their citizens mad by implementing time changes. Pretty soon, it was clock chaos in the land of the free.

Of course, having a bunch of states in the same nation operating on different times didn’t work well. Thus, in 1966 the United States Congress, to prove it thought it could somehow control time and the sun, passed the Uniform Time Act. This was when daylight saving officially took hold. Though it was federally mandated, states were allowed to opt out, and some brave places with intelligent citizens did. Hawaii and much of Arizona are the locales that most famously leave their poor, bedraggled clocks alone.

A Brief History of (the Despised) Daylight Saving Time
David Falconer via wikimedia commons

The Nightmare Ends, Restarts

After seven exhausting years, congress finally got enough rest to try to repeal daylight saving time, meaning it made the time shift permanent. In 1973 daylight saving time was implemented around the clock, throughout the year. This was due to an oil embargo currently taking place. Unfortunately, there was a huge number of pre-dawn crashes, because now more people were experiencing darker mornings, and they’d never seen darkness before, so it seems, and had no idea how to handle it.

In fact, because it was darker during peak commute time, there were far more vehicles in operation. Since going slower and paying attention while operating a driving death machine weren’t popular even before the invention of the cell phone, people demanded that the time change be put back in place. Thus, daylight saving returned in 1975. This brought about the lesson that if you don’t want to change your clocks, maybe don’t drive like a cat with its tail on fire. Which are notoriously poor motorists.

A Moment of DST Debunking

It’s never been made exactly clear when people began to believe that daylight saving time had something to do with farmers. In fact, in 1919 the agriculture industry lobbied against daylight saving time, because farmers and ranchers can use reason. They were overruled by politicians, who seemingly can’t.

In fact, altering time inconveniences those who work in agriculture. Their jobs center around plants and animals, who have a schedule that ignores what the clock says. Thus, if farmers need to water seeds, feed livestock, or relieve the full udders of goats at a particular time, and that time changes, the whole operation gets thrown into bedlam until everyone can adjust.

So, if you’re among the roughly 900 billion people who hate daylight saving time, don’t blame a farmer. Thank them for standing up in favor of reasonable time. Also, for food.

DST Today

Though we don’t burn the midnight oil in the literal sense, we do still rely on electricity. The current goal of daylight saving time is the same it’s always been: to reduce resource waste. In this case, the whole point is to avoid spending needless money on extra electricity. 

The Death of Daylight Saving Time?

The most recent development in the war against our circadian rhythm might be a death knell struck by the United States Senate. In an unusual showing of actually doing something together, the Senate on March 15th, 2022 unanimously passed the Sunshine Protection Act, a bill that would make daylight saving time permanent (instead of switching every six months). This proves that in a nation divided politically and ideologically, the one thing on which we can agree is switching our clocks twice a year is a terrible idea.

Should this bill become law, after singing a cute little tune about it, it will take effect in November of 2023. We’ll still lose an hour from the “spring forward” in March of 2023, and won’t gain that hour back in November. But we’ll never have to change our clocks again. Hopefully.

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