The beginning of daylight savings was total chaos!

By David Murray

On Monday morning, millions of American commuters will pull into work grateful for an extra hour of sack time. They might also be cursing their commute back home, locked into an early evening twilight they can blame on only one thing – the semiannual ritual of moving time back and forth that we refer to as daylight saving time.

To be clear, Sunday’s turning back of the clock by one hour marks the end of daylight saving time. We will all be back on standard time – another bit of confusion in the daylight saving time saga.

Ben Franklin Had The Idea...

Many may be aware that the original idea of a daylight saving time is often attributed to Benjamin Franklin. It was in 1784 while serving as the United States’ first ambassador to France that Franklin penned an essay to the editor of The Journal of Paris titled, “An Economical Project for Diminishing the Cost of Light.”

In 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt signed into law an act establishing “War Time,” setting the nation’s clocks back for one hour the full year round. The time change lasted from Feb. 9, 1942, to Sept. 30, 1945. The law was repealed just four weeks after the war ended, but allowed individual states and local to adopt their own daylight saving scheme without regard to any national standard.

This led to a 20-year period that Time Magazine referred to in 1963 as “a chaos of clocks.”

In 1965, there were 23 different pairs of start and end dates to daylight saving in Iowa alone. In Minnesota, the “twin cities” of Minneapolis and St. Paul observed the beginning of daylight saving time two weeks apart despite being a single metropolitan area only separated by the Mississippi River. Passengers on a 35-mile bus ride from Steubenville, Ohio, to Moundsville, West Virginia, passed through seven time changes during their 40 minutes on the bus.

A State Divided: Indiana...

The most bitter time divide took place in Indiana. In 1949, the Indiana General Assembly passed a law to put the entire state in the Central time zone and outlawing daylight saving time. Many rural counties simply chose to ignore it. The general assembly passed a similar law again in 1957, this time with Indiana Gov. Harold Handley vowing to enforce the law by withdrawing state aid from the communities who continued to implement daylight saving time. Twelve western Indiana counties continued to rebel, and the law was eventually scrapped.

The widespread confusion, especially for trains, buses, airlines and the broadcast industry, led Congress to pass the Uniform Time Act of 1966. The law set a uniform national standard for daylight saving to begin at 2 a.m. local time on the last Sunday in April and to end it at 2 a.m. local time on the last Sunday in October.

What the Uniform Time Act did not do was require all states to observe daylight saving if their legislature permitted them not to.

Hawaii and Arizona decided to opt out entirely – except for the Navajo Nation in Arizona which does; however the Hopi Nation (which is entirely surrounded by the Navajo Nation) does not. In effect, there’s a giant doughnut-shaped area of Arizona that does observe daylight saving time, except for the hole in the middle. It’s got to be confusing for everybody.

All About The Energy Savings...

The rationale for daylight saving time going all the way back to Franklin has always been energy savings. In response to the 1973 energy crisis, Congress moved the start of daylight saving time back to the last Sunday in February.

The move was justified by a Department of Transportation study that suggested the energy equivalent of 600,000 barrels of oil could be saved each year by observing daylight saving time in March and April. The move was widely unpopular and was repealed amid widespread public criticism in 1976.

In fact, there is little quantifiable evidence to support the claim that substantial energy savings can be had simply by moving the hands of a clock.

In 2006, after 60 years of disagreement, the Indiana General Assembly adopted daylight saving time throughout the state for the first time. That offered a unique opportunity for a large, statewide examination of any energy saving benefits.

The tradition of daylight saving time is unlikely to go away anytime soon. In fact, just 10 years ago Congress again extended daylight saving time, this time to last until the first Sunday in November.

While the myth of energy savings was again a prime congressional motivator, the last change in schedule was more closely attached to another American tradition – Halloween.

Through 2006 the first day of daylight saving time most frequently happened before Oct. 31 – Halloween. National accident safety studies show that a child is four times more likely to be struck by a vehicle on Halloween night than on any other night of the year. The logic was to move daylight saving time forward to the first Sunday in November to give the trick-or-treaters more daylight and therefore more safety from traffic accidents.


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