The idiosyncrasies of Daylight Saving Time

pink sunrise
Sunrise in pink.

By Bruce Stambaugh

As a kid, I loved when Daylight Saving Time (DST) arrived, mostly. At first, school days began in the dark. The upside was that we had more daylight time in the evening to play and do chores.

That seemed like a fair trade to me. Excuse the pun, but times have changed since the origin of DST. I’m not sure humanity has, however.

Believe it or not, DST originated in ancient times before clocks existed. Various civilizations adjusted their schedules, not their clocks, to the natural lengthening of warmer months.

Amish volleyball
Evening recreation.
Ben Franklin’s humor accidentally credited him with the suggestion of DST. When awakened by the sun at 6 a.m. in France in 1784, Franklin jokingly suggested in an essay that the French could save a lot of money by getting up earlier in the morning. That would result in fewer candles burned in the evening.

Folks in Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada were the first to use DST in 1908. The idea didn’t catch on until the onslaught of World War I when Germany resorted to using DST to save fuel for the war effort. Great Britain soon followed suit.

The same thing happened when the United States entered World War II. To save fuel, DST ran from April 30 to Oct. 31. In one form or another, DST has been around ever since.

Today’s use of DST in the U.S. dates to the 1973 oil crisis in the Middle East. DST now runs from the second Sunday in March and ends the first Sunday in November. Altogether, 70 countries use some form of DST.

Despite its semi-annual adjustments, folks still get confused by the change of time. A simple rule is spring forward an hour in March and fall back an hour in November. Note the cheeky references to “spring” and “fall.”

Farmers often get the blame for initiating DST. In fact, the farmers I talk to hate it, especially if they milk cows.

Amish farmer, hay wagons
Late evening wagon train.
When I was an elementary school principal, I often made home visits. In some Amish homes, I noticed that the household clocks remained on standard time.

Others apparently used the art of compromise. Clocks were set back a half an hour. Perhaps these methods were mild forms of protest. Whatever the reasons, people always seemed to know what time it was regardless of what the clocks said.

That’s more than others could say. This simple idea led to some chaotic timekeeping. In 1965, the state of Iowa had 23 different start and end dates for DST. Even the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Min. didn’t change time equally.

To bring order to all of the chaotic clocks, Congress passed the Energy Policy Act of 2005 making DST uniform. Well, mostly. Arizona and Hawaii still don’t use DST, along with several U.S. territories.

For good or for ill, the intent of this checkered history of playing with time was to save energy. Research has shown that concept is flawed.

I can see both sides. Earlier risers would just as soon avoid manipulating the clocks twice a year. Those who desire extra playtime after work or school are happy for the extended daylight.

That remains the justification for DST. It doesn’t save time. The tactic merely adjusts the clock to accommodate more daylight for more citizens.

My less than nimble fingers protest resetting the many digital devices that don’t self-correct. The child in my heart, however, still enjoys the adjusted daylight.

kids swimming, summertime
Summertime fun.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016