The bizarre and belligerent history of Daylight Saving Time
Let's Do the Time Warp Again

Who knew it required two centuries, a couple of world wars, and a Supreme Court decision to make Daylight Saving Time a reality? 

An accidental noise woke Ben Franklin at 6:00 in the morning.

Let canon be fired in every street

He wrote a (tongue-in-cheek) letter to the Journal de Paris expressing his surprise that not only did the sun rise at 6:00 am,  it “gives light as soon as it rises”.

If he had slept until his usual hour of noon, he would have missed 6 hours of daylight.

He worked out that sleeping late was costing the city of Paris the ( modern day) equivalent of $200 million a year.

(Assuming everyone was sleeping until noon)

He became the first person to suggest government intervention to make the most of daylight hours.

He suggested an “economical project”:

  1. Let a tax be laid…on every window that is provided with shutters to keep the light out
  2. Let…no family be permitted to be supplied with more than one pound of candles per week
  3. Let guards be posted to stop all coaches etc. in the street after sunset…
  4. Every morning as soon as the sun rises, let all the bells in every church be set ringing; if that is not sufficient let canon be fired in every street, to wake the sluggards effectively
    and make them open their eyes to their true interest.

Luckily for the sluggards, including Franklin, the economical project was never implemented.

The Day of Two Noons

In the United States, the Pennsylvania Railroad used Philadelphia time. The Baltimore and Ohio lines operated on Baltimore time for trains originating in Baltimore and on Columbus time for Ohio trains.  The Union Pacific Railroad had different time standards in 6 zones.

By 1872, there were more than 70 railroad “time zones” in the United States, with boundaries set to each company’s geographic coverage.

Passengers traveling from Maine to California might adjust their watches more than 20 times!

The conversion to standard time happened at noon on Sunday, November 18, 1883.

On the “Day of the Two Noons”, noon came and went in the eastern portion of each new time zone clocks were turned back and a new noon approached.

People in the eastern parts of time zones got to live a little of their lives again while those in the west jumped into the future.

The New York Herald pictured the delight of the churchgoing man New York whose noon service is 4 minutes shorter.

Every old maid on Beacon Hill is thrilled to discover she’s younger by almost sixteen minutes.

A Love Affair with Daylight

In 1902, British builder William Willett (great-great-grandfather of Coldplay’s Chris Martin) hit on the idea of Daylight Saving Time while horseback riding.

Willett’s house designs emphasized the use of light and open space so much that he was said to have “A love affair with daylight”.

His “simple” idea? Set the clock forward by 20 minutes at 2:00 am each Sunday in April and set it back by 20 minutes at 2:00 each Sunday in September.

Willett argued that energy expenditure and pollution would decrease and health and morale would improve.

Apparently: “Every year of life would be leavened with additional gaiety”.

He may also have predicted WWI.

He pointed out that the nation may be thankful in future that “opportunities for rifle practice will have been created”.

The idea was championed by Winston Churchill and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle—but was rejected by the British government.  

(Though they did revise the plan so that the clocks would go forward one hour at 2:00 am in April and back one hour at 2:00 am in September)

Straightfaced, they pointed that that 8 time changes were “rather numerous”.

Willett kept arguing for the concept of Daylight Saving Time up until his death in 1915.

Berlin Time

In 1916, two years into World War I, the German government started brainstorming ways to save energy.

The British prime minister Asquith refused to even consider the “contentious issue” of Daylight Standard Time.

Meanwhile, the Germans simply decreed it into being using emergency powers.

The Frankfurter Zeitung took the opportunity for a potshot at the UK:

“It is characteristic of England, that she could not rouse herself to a decision”

With the advent of war and scarcity of fuel, the view of DST in the U.K. changed dramatically.

In those days, coal was the mother of all fuel so people really could save energy by changing their clocks.

And, by so doing, help the war effort.

Soon, England and almost every other country that fought in World War I followed suit.

Lord Balfour did hilariously object in the House of Lords:

“Suppose some unfortunate lady was confined with twins, and one child was born ten minutes before one o’ clock; if the clock was put back, the registration of the time of birth would be put back….Such an alteration might conceivably affect the property and titles in that house”

(This actually happened in 2016.)

British clocks were advanced an hour just 4 days after approval of the act and three weeks after the introduction of DST to Germany.

One joker scribbled on London’s New Bridge Street:

“All Fool’s Day, May 21. Get up one hour earlier, and kid yourself you haven’t Berlin time”

Don’t blame the Farmers

The popular opinion that Daylight Saving Time was created to benefit farmers.

Actually, the farmers were the only organized lobby against daylight saving in the history of the United States.

In certain districts in the United Kingdom, farmers refused to acknowledge the DST at all, which local schools and post offices did.

This caused quite a bit of confusion and friction.

The lost hour of morning light meant farmers had to rush to get their crops to market.

Dairy farmers were particularly flummoxed.

In Massachusetts, DST caused a railroad to run its trains so early that New Hampshire farmers would have to get up at 1:30am to milk their cows.

Time Warp Today

Still can’t get daylight saving time right

The  Arizona daylight saving situation is really confusing.

While most of the state ignore daylight saving time, the Navajo Nation observes it.

Meanwhile, the Hopi Reservation, which is surrounded entirely by the Navajo Nation, does not.

And within the Hopi Reservation sits a small slice of the Navajo Nation that, yes, does observe daylight saving time.

So it goes like this:

  • Enter Navajo Nation, time change
  • Enter Hopi Nation, time change
  • Enter Navajo Nation, time change
  • Enter Arizona, time change
  • Exit Arizona, time change

Florida may soon have always-on Daylight Saving Time.

Even the European Parliament recently voted in favor of retaining the same time all-year round.

DST doesn’t save energy anymore – it’s been a long time since coal was king.

And the time change is being blamed for an increase in car accidents, heart attacks, and headaches.

Its time may be up.

On the plus side, an hour more of DST may mean an hour less of DJT (Donald J Trump).


My main source on this article was the wonderful book “Seize the Daylight“. Even if DST makes you want to pull your hair out, I promise this book won’t.  Highly recommend.


Latest Comments

Leave a Reply