Who can control the flight of hours? It turns out the Federal Government can, I mused as my alarm went off one recent dark morning. Daylight Saving Time—saving what, from or for who?
The Library shelves hold insights to the hows and whys of DST. In Spring Forward, Michael Downing explains that Standard Time was introduced to the United States by the railroads in 1883. Prior to that, localities set their own time, in a patchwork quilt of time zones. Standard timekeeping facilitated travel and communication, and its use increased over the next thirty-five years.
President Woodrow Wilson signed a bill in 1918 that made Standard Time the law. The bill not only established official time zones, it adopted Daylight Saving Time.
DST was controversial from the start. Farmers were against moving their clocks ahead in the summer, since farms operated by the sun’s time. Cows were milked regardless of official time, and crops could be harvested only after morning dew dried. The time change impacted farmers’ interaction with the clock-oriented world: hired hands, milk trains, schools, banks, stores.
The American Railway Association was also against the bill, siting potential accidents on single track lines and the difficulty of coordinating more than one and a half million railroad clocks.
One of the first and most influential advocates for DST was Robert Garland, a Pittsburgh industrialist. After examining data of Britain’s fuel saving (British Summer Time was adopted in 1916), Garland and Lincoln Filine, owner of Boston’s biggest department store chain, joined forces. The two men met with key members of the US Chamber of Commerce, and created a lengthy report strongly recommending national DST.
DST was intended to save electricity during World War I. After the war ended, it was repealed in 1919, and each city or state decided whether or not to retain DST. During World War II, DST was reinstated. Officially known as War Time, clocks remained one hour ahead of Standard Time year round until the war ended.
From 1945 to 1966, U.S. federal law did not address DST. States and localities were once again free to observe DST or not.
The U.S. federal Uniform Time Act became law in 1966. It mandated DST nationwide to begin on the last Sunday in April and conclude on the last Sunday in October.
Beginning in 2007, DST was extended from the second Sunday in March to the first Sunday in November. So here we are. This coming weekend we will move our clocks back one hour.
Mourn your shortening days, but embrace your lighter mornings.
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Selling the True Time: Nineteenth-Century Timekeeping in America by Ian R. Bartky
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