What is Daylight Savings Time?

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Daylight Saving Time is a controversial topic, one that many people have strong feelings over. In this lesson, we'll explore the history of DST and see how it's been implemented over time (pun intended).

Daylight Saving Time

Ask Americans what they hate the most, and you'll get a few standard replies. Taxes. Traffic. Daylight Saving Time. We complain about it, and every year we read the reports that auto accidents and heart attacks increase on this date, but what exactly is it? For one, it's not Daylight Savings Time. Officially, there's no s.

Daylight Saving Time is a globally-utilized method of reducing energy use by conforming society more closely to the actual hours of sunlight during the summer months. Every nation handles it a little differently. In the Southern Hemisphere, Daylight Saving occurs from November through March. Some nations use it longer than others. Not everyone around the world likes it, but about 40% of the world still uses it, and it doesn't look like it's going anywhere anytime soon.

Daylight Saving Time is not an easy adjustment for everyone

DST in the USA

So, what does this look like in the United States? Here, we implement Daylight Saving Time (DST) by setting our clocks forward one hour on the second Sunday in March. We stay on this schedule until reverting back to Standard Time on the first Sunday of November. A handy pneumonic many people use to remember this pattern is Spring Forward, Fall Back. You set your clocks forward in Spring, then set them back in Fall. Get it? So, when does this occur?

Officially, DST begins and ends at 2:00 am. This means that on the second Sunday of March, the official time goes from 1:59 am straight to 3:00 am. This time was chosen because it was seen as least disruptive to American lives. Even early-morning shifts have not yet begun, so the impact on transportation is supposed to be minimal.

History of DST

Now for the obvious question: who in the world came up with this plan?! A lot of people credit American inventor and politician Ben Franklin with inventing DST; however, this isn't entirely accurate. In 1784 Franklin submitted an essay to the editor of the Journal of Paris, suggesting that the people of Paris could save on candles by getting out of bed earlier, when the sun came up. Most historians believe it was meant mostly as a joke.

The idea was dropped until a century later, when new technologies like electricity were sweeping the world, but were still pretty costly. Several scientists around the world suggested changing the clocks in summer to take more advantage of natural light as a way to save electricity. Some plans proposed up to eight clock changes per year. Ontario, Canada was the first place to experiment with these plans, adopting a DST program in 1908. So, when did DST actually appear, as we know it today?

A lot of people think that the national adoption of DST had to do with agriculture, giving farmers longer working days. Not quite. The first country to implement a national DST was Germany on April 30, 1916. Does that year seem familiar? Germany was in the middle of fighting World War I. Daylight Saving was introduced as a wartime policy to conserve energy for the war effort. Great Britain followed suit soon after. President Wilson adopted DST, or fast time as it was called, in in 1918 for the same reason.

German poster advocating DST

After WWI, most parts of the United States repealed 'Fast Time'. However, within a few decades the world was back at war. As part of the wartime policy of World War II, president Franklin D. Roosevelt implemented a national DST called War Time in 1942. That was the beginning of a permanent DST policy in the United States.

The Senate clock is set forward for the first DST in 1918

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