MOUNT VERNON — This weekend, most Americans will move their clocks ahead one hour to conform with Daylight Savings Time. Officially, the change occurs at 2 a.m. Sunday, but most people will change their clocks before they go to bed Saturday.
That is, unless they forget and have to change their clocks Sunday after getting everywhere an hour early.
Of course, we’re actually not “saving” daylight. We can’t put it in a bank and take it out at need.
What we can do, during the long days of summer, is shift most people’s daily activities. You still go to work at 8 or 9 a.m., but it’s closer to dawn and you have more daylight available between the end of your workday and sunset. The change is more apparent as you move away from the equator, where daylight and dark are evenly split throughout the year.
According to the U.S. Naval Observatory, daylight in Ohio today will last 11 hours and 43 minutes. By the time of the summer solstice (June 21) daylight will last 15 hours and 3 minutes. The shortest days of the year have 9 hours and 17 minutes of daylight. We’re gaining about three minutes of daylight per day, although the increases will get less as the solstice approaches.
The idea of Daylight Savings Time is that by making daylight available at the end of the day, people spend less time with lights or appliances on, thus saving energy. However, that may not be as true anymore because of the greater use of air conditioning in modern society.
The original idea for Daylight Savings Time was actually proposed by Benjamin Franklin in 1784 in a whimsical essay, “An Economical Project,” he wrote while serving as an American delegate in Paris.
Parisians and Franklin were notorious for staying up late and rising late. He claimed to have been astounded one day when he accidentally woke at 6 a.m. and found there was wonderful sunshine outside.
He proposed that by changing the clocks, Parisians could get up earlier and go to bed earlier, thus having more daylight in the evening for their activities. That, he said, would save significant amounts of money because people would burn fewer candles.
He even calculated how many candles it would save and how much the typical household would save.
The idea lay fallow for more than 100 years, but in the meantime there was a significant change: The adoption of standard time. This was driven by the railroads as a necessity for maintaining schedules. It was adopted in Britain in the 1840s and in the U.S. in 1883.
The first serious proposal for Daylight Savings Time came in 1907 in England, but it wasn’t adopted until 1916, during World War I, when it was also adopted in many other European countries.
There was a storm of opposition and confusion, but Britain continued to use it through World War I. The U.S. also adopted it in 1918 and 1919. The British version used four 20-minute time changes on consecutive weeks to move into the new time.
Opposition came from farmers or others who went to work early and preferred having the daylight hours in the morning.
It was usually called “Summer Time” in the early years of its use.
In Britain, the law was changed in 1925 to move to Daylight Savings Time on the Sunday after the third Saturday in April (unless that Sunday was Easter, in which case the change came a week earlier) and end the first weekend in October.
In the U.S., Congress repealed the Daylight Savings Time law in 1919 and overrode a veto by President Woodrow Wilson.
Nationwide Daylight Savings Time didn’t return until 1942, when President Franklin Roosevelt instituted “war time,” which lasted until September 1945. Britain even implemented a double Daylight Savings Time during the war, moving their clocks ahead two hours.
From 1945 to 1966, the issue was again left to the states and localities, bringing on confusion in broadcasting as well as bus, railroad and airline schedules. It was even reported that on one Ohio to West Virginia bus route, passengers went through seven time changes in 35 miles.
Congress finally acted in 1966 to reinstate Daylight Savings Time starting the first Sunday in April and running through the last Sunday in October. States and some parts of states could opt out of switching.
The Daylight Savings Time Energy Conservation Act of 1973 was implemented in January 1974 by President Richard Nixon to save energy in the face of the Arab oil embargo.
That fall, the pattern of moving clocks ahead in the spring and back in the fall returned, but the date of the changes has been changed. Daylight Savings Time now starts on the second Sunday in March and ends on the first Sunday in November.
Most western European countries observe Daylight Savings from the last Sunday in March to the first Sunday of October. Use of Daylight Savings varies widely in the rest of the world.