You either love it or you hate it. People complain about losing an hour of sleep—though most of us probably got as much sleep last night as any other Saturday night. Some people say it takes at least a week to adjust to the time change—but you rarely hear people complain about changing a single time zone. It will be darker in the morning when your alarm clock goes off, that much is true. But it will be lighter after work, signaling the long summer evenings we all seem to enjoy.
Everyone seems to have an opinion about Daylight Saving Time. But why do we do it? That’s the question I’ve been pondering this weekend, and I was surprised to learn that it hasn’t been around as long as I thought—at least not in any consistent way.
Daylight Saving Time began during World War I, to help save energy for the war effort. It was first enacted in Germany in 1916 to save the fuel needed to make electricity. By moving the clocks ahead one hour, more daylight was shifted to the evening, allowing more time before lights had to be turned on. The practice was not adopted in the United States until 1918, when Congress passed an act “to preserve daylight and provide standard time for the United States” on March 19, 1918.
It was observed for seven months in 1918 and 1919. But after the war there were so many protests that Congress repealed the daylight saving provision of the act, keeping only the standard time zones. President Woodrow Wilson vetoed the repeal twice, but Congress overrode his vetoes.
And this is where it gets interesting. Between the wars, Daylight Saving Time was locally observed by only some locales across the nation. I don’t mean entire states, but city by city. Local newspaper reports from the time highlight the confusion this created. Apparently, Fort Collins reverted to Standard Mountain Time after the war. But Denver—or at least parts of it—adopted Daylight Saving Time. On April 30, 1921, the Fort Collins Courier had this to say about the situation in Denver:
“Mayor Bailey announced yesterday that all city and county offices will operate on daylight saving time . . . All railroad operations will remain on standard time, as well as telegraph companies. . . To conform to daylight saving time however, telegrams and night letters will be delivered one hour earlier in the morning. . . Most larger hotels will maintain two clocks, side by side in a conspicuous place, one giving Denver time and the other standard time. The stockyards will remain on standard time, due to train arrivals from Eastern markets. Downtown stores, churches, and practically all commercial houses will be operated on daylight saving time.”
This situation went on like this across the nation until World War II, when once again Daylight Saving Time was enacted for the war effort. President Franklin D. Roosevelt reintroduced the measure year-round from 1942 to 1945 to promote electricity conservation and evening Victory gardening, calling it “War Time.”
While there was no federal law regarding Daylight Saving Time from 1945 to 1966, it continued to be observed in some locations and not others, with no agreement about when to change the clocks. This caused a lot of confusion, especially in the broadcasting and transportation industries, where new schedules were published every time a state, city, or locality began or ended Daylight Saving Time.
Finally in 1966, Congress passed the Uniform Time Act, establishing Daylight Saving Time beginning on the last Sunday of April and ending on the last Sunday of October. However, states could opt out by passing a law. Of course, it doesn’t end there. In Colorado, the General Assembly has tried unsuccessfully on several occasions to opt out of Daylight Saving Time or experiment with using it year-round. In 1987, a resolution was introduced to allow Colorado to use Daylight Saving Time year-round to reduce air pollution. That resolution, and others that have followed, have been unsuccessful.
So it looks like we’re stuck with Daylight Saving Time. But does it work? Studies during the 1970s showed that observing Daylight Saving Time saved 10,000 barrels of oil and day and reduced electricity usage by 1%. But this may no longer be true. Lifestyles have changed. People work longer hours, drive more frequently and further distances, there are more places to go in the evening, and there is widespread use of air conditioning.
What do you think? Should we get rid of Daylight Saving Time? If that sounds good to you, consider signing the White House petition to eliminate it—100,000 signatures are needed by April 4, 2013.