Why is this a thing? Daylight Savings Time

We know it’s going to happen twice every year, but we still can’t seem to grasp the time change when it happens. But we’re not alone in our befuddlement, and it’s not a modern thing at all. 

To start, the Romans created “civil time” with the sundial in 263 BC—their day was always 12 units of time before the meridian and 12 after. Those units varied, seasonally, to accommodate actual daylight. By our clocks, Roman summer “hours” were about 75 minutes; in winter they shrunk to 44 minutes. 

Fast forward two millennia to Benjamin Franklin, who proposed moving clocks forward in the spring and back in the fall. He published an article in 1784 that proposed saving money on candles by rising earlier to use morning sunlight. His idea was pretty much  satirical since, without mass transit or communication, or even a standard work day, the 18th century did not thrive much on precise scheduling. 

Jump ahead again to the end of the 19th century, when several scientists, businessmen, and even government assemblies began discussing the many benefits of changing civil timekeeping to accommodate summer’s extra daylight hours. 

Early thinkers included New Zealand entomologist George Hudson, who wanted to take advantage of after-hours daylight to collect more insects. William Willett was an English builder who thought people shouldn’t sleep in during summer months. (He also didn’t like having to cut his evening golf game.) His idea was to move clocks 20 minutes every Sunday in April and September. Not exactly helpful to people trying to remember when to be at the train station. 

Over in the New World, Port Arthur, Ontario became the first city to enact DST in 1908. In 1916, in an effort to save coal during wartime, Germany made the change nationally, followed by Britain, its allies, Russia and, finally, the United States in 1918. 

DST went out of style at the end of the war but came back again during World War II, and was made into law in 1966 under the Uniform Time Act. It took on greater appreciation in the West in the 1970s as a result of the energy crisis. 

While, technically, Uniform Time was supposed to be, well…uniform, Hawaii and Arizona (with the exception of the Navajo Reservation), said, “No, thank you.” Hawaii, being so close to the equator, doesn’t have much variation in the number of daylight hours anyway. In Arizona, the considerable heat during active hours causes residents to use more energy to cool off than the time change was designed to prevent. 

Even the U.S. time change has changed a few times—after a few energy policy revisions—and there are current proposals to make “summer” hours permanent. Studies have been done on the pros and cons for energy use, safety, health, and transportation, and while the data did not definitively prove either side, it does mean benefits to retail, sports, and tourism… as in extra few hundred million in annual revenue. Those in the agriculture world don’t love it so much because cows and corn don’t care what time it is. 

The main argument for Year-Round DST seems to be that our lifestyles are not really dependent upon the kinds of time tables that were standard for a few hundred years. The argument against is that, like cows and corn, our millennia-old biorhythms are happier syncing with the sun than mechanical clocks.  

While a few states have passed their own bills for year-round time, the U.S. Congress has yet to get it out of committee for the whole country. Meanwhile, in Texas, we will be changing our clocks at 2:00am on March 8.