Daylight Saving Time: Origins and Impending Change

The idea of daylight saving was first conceived by Benjamin Franklin (portrait at right) during his sojourn as an American delegate in Paris in 1784, in an essay, “An Economical Project.” Read the essay here

Some of Franklin’s friends, inventors of a new kind of oil lamp, were so taken by the scheme that they continued corresponding with Franklin even after he returned to America.

Benjamin Franklin

The idea was first advocated seriously by London builder William Willett (1857-1915) in the pamphlet, “Waste of Daylight” (1907), that proposed advancing clocks 20 minutes on each of four Sundays in April, and retarding them by the same amount on four Sundays in September. As he was taking an early morning a ride through Petts Wood, near Croydon, Willett was struck by the fact that the blinds of nearby houses were closed, even though the sun was fully risen. When questioned as to why he didn’t simply get up an hour earlier, Willett replied with typical British humor, “What?” In his pamphlet “The Waste of Daylight” he wrote:

“Everyone appreciates the long, light evenings. Everyone laments their shortage as Autumn approaches; and everyone has given utterance to regret that the clear, bright light of an early morning during Spring and Summer months is so seldom seen or used.”

Daylight Saving Time begins for most of the United States at 2:00 a.m. on the first Sunday of April. Time reverts to standard time at 2:00 a.m. on the last Sunday of October. In the U.S., each time zone switches at a different time.

Standard time in the US

Standard time in time zones was instituted in the U.S. and Canada by the railroads on November 18, 1883. Prior to that, time of day was a local matter, and most cities and towns used some form of local solar time, maintained by a well-known clock (on a church steeple, for example, or in a jeweler’s window). The new standard time system was not immediately embraced by all, however.

Date change in 2007

On August 8, 2005, President George W. Bush signed the Energy Policy Act of 2005. This Act changed the time change dates for Daylight Saving Time in the U.S. Beginning in 2007, DST will begin on the second Sunday of March and end the first Sunday of November. The Secretary of Energy will report the impact of this change to Congress. Congress retains the right to revert the Daylight Saving Time back to the 2005 time schedule once the Department of Energy study is complete.

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