I was reading an old Suwannee Democrat recently and came across a discussion of Daylight Savings Time (originally dubbed “Daylight Saving Time”). Like many people, I detest the time changes each year. As with every home in the United States, “Spring forward” and “Fall back” are a small nuisance in my house and workplace as I must go around changing all the mechanical clocks to the new time; it’s one of those miscellaneous duties not on my business card or title (although “Keeper of Time” has a nice ring to it).
That having been said, the time change has been around in the United States for just more than 100 years, and some countries continue to observe it for a variety of reasons. Today, we’re going to talk about the history of this time-changing event.
The modern Daylight Savings Time was initially proposed by George Hudson, a British-born New Zealand entomologist and astronomer, in 1895. Cultures for thousands of years had used a variation on it, basing their timepieces on the amount of daylight received. In the Roman Empire, for instance, this meant that their 12 “hours” of daylight in the summertime could have up to 75 minutes each “hour,” while in the winter this decreased to as little as 44 minutes each “hour.” Benjamin Franklin satirically suggested while he was envoy to France during the American Revolution that the French authorities tax window shutters, ration candles, and wake the public by ringing church bells and firing cannons at sunrise.
After several attempts by various countries to establish Daylight Savings Time, the first use by a country came in 1916, during the height of World War I. The German Empire declared DST on April 30 to conserve coal and energy sources during wartime. Germany’s ally Austria-Hungary followed suit at the same time, and soon most of the other warring countries were adopting the change to help the war effort.
The United States was still neutral in 1916 and did not follow the pattern of the European empires at the time. However, once the U.S. entered WWI in 1917, discussion revived on the issue of Daylight Savings Time. Finally, in 1918, the United States Congress adopted DST. A Suwannee Democrat article from May 1918 discussed the new time change to local citizens:
“Whereas the government has adopted a new daylight saving time in order to bring about an earlier conducting of business which will materially aid in the conservation of fuel, in addition to the visual lesson of patriotism that would result, businesses in Live Oak will close at 6 p.m. with the exception of drug stores which will close at 9 p.m.”
When World War I ended in November 1918, most countries dropped Daylight Savings Time, only for some to readopt it during World War II just more than 20 years later. Other countries followed in the 1970s during the energy crisis, but even today many nations struggle as to whether to have Daylight Savings Time, and if so, how long.
Florida was the first of several states whose legislatures recently passed bills to enact a permanent Daylight Savings Time, but the United States Congress has not yet approved it. Until then, we will continue to observe Daylight Savings Time and change our clocks twice a year….
More history next week.
Eric Musgrove can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 386-362-0564.