Daylight Savings Time Ends Sunday, November 6th!
The origin of Daylight Savings
Although not punctual in the modern sense, ancient civilizations adjusted daily schedules to the sun more flexibly than modern DST does, often dividing daylight into twelve hours regardless of day length, so that each daylight hour was longer during summer. For example, Roman water clocks had different scales for different months of the year: at Rome’s latitude the third hour from sunrise, hora tertia, started by modern standards at 09:02 solar time and lasted 44 minutes at the winter solstice, but at the summer solstice it started at 06:58 and lasted 75 minutes. After ancient times, equal-length civil hours eventually supplanted unequal, so civil time no longer varies by season. Unequal hours are still used in a few traditional settings, such as some Mount Athos monasteries and all Jewish ceremonies.
During his time as an American envoy to France, Benjamin Franklin, publisher of the old English proverb, “Early to bed, and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise”, anonymously published a letter suggesting that Parisians economize on candles by rising earlier to use morning sunlight. This 1784 satire proposed taxing shutters, rationing candles, and waking the public by ringing church bells and firing cannons at sunrise. Franklin did not propose DST; like ancient Rome, 18th-century Europe did not keep precise schedules. However, this soon changed as rail and communication networks came to require a standardization of time unknown in Franklin’s day.
Fuzzy head-and-shoulders photo of a 40-year-old man in a cloth cap and mustache.
G.V. Hudson invented modern DST, proposing it first in 1895.
Modern DST was first proposed by the New Zealand entomologist George Vernon Hudson, whose shift-work job gave him leisure time to collect insects, and led him to value after-hours daylight. In 1895 he presented a paper to the Wellington Philosophical Society proposing a two-hour daylight-saving shift, and after considerable interest was expressed in Christchurch, New Zealand he followed up in an 1898 paper. Many publications incorrectly credit DST’s proposal to the prominent English builder and outdoorsman William Willett, who independently conceived DST in 1905 during a pre-breakfast ride, when he observed with dismay how many Londoners slept through a large part of a summer’s day. An avid golfer, he also disliked cutting short his round at dusk. His solution was to advance the clock during the summer months, a proposal he published two years later. The proposal was taken up by the Liberal Member of Parliament (MP) Robert Pearce, who introduced the first Daylight Saving Bill to the House of Commons on 12 February 1908. A select committee was set up to examine the issue, but Pearce’s bill did not become law, and several other bills failed in the following years. Willett lobbied for the proposal in the UK until his death in 1915.
Willett’s 1907 proposal argued that DST increases opportunities for outdoor leisure activities during afternoon sunlight hours. The longer days nearer the summer solstice in high latitudes offer more room to shift daylight from morning to evening so that early morning daylight is not wasted. DST is commonly not observed during most of winter, because its mornings are darker: workers may have no sunlit leisure time, and children may need to leave for school in the dark.
Starting on 30 April 1916, Germany and its World War I allies were the first to use DST (German: Sommerzeit) as a way to conserve coal during wartime. Britain, most of its allies, and many European neutrals soon followed suit. Russia and a few other countries waited until the next year and the United States adopted it in 1918. Since then, the world has seen many enactments, adjustments, and repeals.