Daylight Savings Time & the Modern Day Calendar

by Niclas Marie

A great rule of thumb:
On fall, you "fall back" one hour, and in the spring, you "spring ahead" one hour.

Daylight savings (DST), proposed well over a hundred years ago, has a rich and rather controversial history. Although the law or mandate hinges on the age-old practice of working and living according to the sun, there are very vocal parties both for and against it. The concept is simple: move the time forward during the spring and back again in the fall. Yet, the effects are far reaching, both in a person's daily life and in how people, companies, and governments conduct business across jurisdictions and between countries.

A Brief History of Daylight Savings Time

Since the beginning of written history, humans have adjusted their daily lives to the sun, waking at first light and proceeding about their business until dark no matter what time it actually was. Romans based water clocks on this premise, with time slowly adjusting by using a different scale for different months. Hundreds of years later, Benjamin Franklin first proposed the idea, albeit in a satirical essay inspired after sunlight woke him well before he planned to rise, as an effort to save on the cost of candles. George Vernon Hudson first suggested a method most similar to modern DST in 1895, proposing 80-minute or two-hour shifts forward and backward twice a year. Ten years later, William Willet made a similar suggestion; however, he broke up the process into four 20-minute increments, slowly moving the clock forward over four weeks in April, and then slowly moving it backward over four weeks in September. In 1916, during World War I, Germany and other countries adopted DST as an energy saving recourse, with the United States followed in 1918. Later, in 1942, the US implemented year-round DST, and in 1966 Congress passed the Uniform Time Act, which created set dates for the practice and included a caveat allowing states or jurisdictions to avoid it.

How Daylight Savings Works

In the US, DST starts on the second Sunday in March, with clocks moving forward one hour. On the first Sunday in November, the clocks move backwards an hour, thus ending DST. The shift occurs at 2:00 am on the day; however, some states change at a slightly different time. The European Union, as well as other parts of the world, observes similar practices, yet the logistics are different. For example, the European Union starts DST (known as Summer Time) on the last Sunday in March and ends it on the last Sunday in October. The shift occurs to allow people more daylight during working and waking hours, ending approximately when days naturally begin to get shorter, as well as to limit electrical usage during business hours. Most of North America, Greenland, Europe, and portions of South America and Australia observe DST. Russia, China, the Middle East, Japan and most of Africa do not change the time. Currently, Hawaii and Arizona do not observe DST, despite being a part of the US.

Politics: DST's Strongest Supporters, and Most Devout Opponents

The strongest initial supporter of DST was William Willet; in fact, he spent much of his career championing his cause, though he sadly passed before ever seeing it become the reality it is today. Winston Churchill, another of the strongest proponents, reasoned his case using extra sleep as the draw rather than energy conservation and increased efficiency, although he argued for these equally as eloquently. Perhaps his most famous quote on the subject, Churchill once said "An extra yawn one morning in the springtime, an extra snooze one night in the autumn… We borrow an hour one night in April; we pay it back with golden interest five months later."

Interestingly enough, laymen note farmers as one of the strongest backers of the practice; however, agriculture as a whole was and is very much opposed the idea. As they already naturally worked by sunlight, the shift in time caused a reduction in productivity, with farm hands leaving before work was complete to make it home for the evening hours. Since then, opposition to the rule has only increased, and even decades after Congress passed the law, the controversy remains. Two of the most vocal opponents to the mandate are Matthew Kotchen and Laura E. Grant, two researchers who studied whether the strongest argument for DST was actually factual: energy savings. Their results concluded that areas that adopted DST actually used more energy than those that did not.

Benefits vs. Drawbacks: The Arguments For and Against DST

Daylight savings is hotly contested. Proponents claim that people use less electricity during the summer when time moves forward an hour, although studies vary in support of this. During the summer, DST does allow for more daylight hours when most people are awake, theoretically prompting additional time outdoors. Other claimed benefits include increased light during peak traffic time, reducing accidents, and an overall reduction in crime. On the opposite end of the spectrum are those who strongly oppose DST. Drawbacks include the claim that DST does not save energy or that the savings is negligible, and that it may actually increase consumption. The shift in time can be difficult for people to adjust to, increasing stress and reducing productivity. The fact that much of the world does not observe the practice is also a deterrent, with airlines alone claiming that the cost of DST and adjusting schedules to coordinate with non-participating regions is roughly $147 million per year.

About the author

is the founder and CEO of TimeCenter Online Scheduling and lives in Helsingborg, Sweden. He loves to code beautiful and simple web apps, and occasionally enjoys a game of blitz chess.

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