Benjamin Franklin is widely credited as the first to suggest daylight saving. His essay, proposing that waking hours better coincide with hours of sunlight, was meant tongue-in-cheek, yet it addressed a very real problem: Why sleep through the morning light while using candles to work during the dark, evening hours?
Although Franklin wasn’t the only one critical of the disparity between nature and the clock, it would take almost a century for a solution to be attempted....
In the United States, localities set their own time. With the advent of rail travel, however, the railroad industry needed regulation of the clocks in order to publish railroad schedules. To this end, they instituted an official standard time, as well as the time zone system in 1883. Congress eventually signed their changes into law with the Standard Time Act of 1918. This act also established the first period of daylight saving time; though it met with such controversy it was repealed the next year, sending daylight saving back into the hands of local communities.
Official Daylight Saving Time made its next appearance during World War II, as a means to save energy. When the war ended, however, so did the standardization of daylight time. It was not until 1966 that the Uniform Time Act finally established set dates on which to begin and end daylight time. Individual states, Arizona and Hawaii for instance, could still exempt themselves from the Act.
Although modified several times, most notably during the mid-1970’s energy crisis, the Uniform Time Act maintained the established practice of springing forward and falling back until the Energy Policy Act of 2005 changed the starting and ending dates yet again, to the dates we observe today.
Currently, Daylight Time begins at 2:00 a.m. on the second Sunday in March. Daylight Saving Time ends at 2:00 a.m. on the first Sunday in November. It should be noted, however, that the Act contains a provision allowing Congress to revert back to the old dates should the change prove to be unpopular or result in negligible energy savings.
Proponents of Daylight Saving Time, including Congress, maintain that in addition to saving energy, the extra evening hour may reduce crime, decrease traffic accidents and increase the use of parks and recreational areas. It has even been asserted that the economy benefits from the extra hour of daylight during peak shopping time.
Critics argue that the energy saved in the evening is used to light the darker mornings and keep buildings cool an hour later. In addition, they argue that the twice-a-year change contributes to decreased worker productivity, chronic overtiredness and increased susceptibility to illness.
The Book of Time: The Secrets of Time, How It Works, and How We Measure It by Adam Hart-Davis
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