Nemesis List: Daylight Saving Time

Nov 5, 2010· 2 MIN READ
Following the lead of Wilt Chamberlain, Adam vacated his native Philadelphia for Los Angeles following decades of acclaim and short shorts. He firmly believes that, when it comes to the opportunity for change, we’re on the goal line with bases loaded and no fouls to give. He also finds inspiration in mixed sports metaphors.
Time is a human construct that doesn't exist anyway. Why all the fuss about moving an hour left or right? (Photo:Brian Snyder/Reuters)

Subject: Daylight Saving Time (a.k.a. Daylight Savings Time, Daylight Slaving Time, DST)

Occupation: Adds an hour of sunlight to spring and summer clocks, only to steal it back during the coldest, cruelest months of the year.

Crime: Confusing the cuss out of us for over a century.

Early History: Although saving daylight was a common practice in the ancient world, Benjamin Franklin may have been the first modern-ish thinker to propose a shift in sleeping schedules to match summer’s longer days.

In a satirical letter to The Journal of Paris in 1784, Franklin suggested the French could stock up on candles for winter by waking up sooner during summer.

He also ballyhooed blasting cannons in the wee hours to rouse sleeping Parisians.

A century later—and fully independent of one another—Kiwi entomologist George Vernon Hudson and British builder William Willett put pens to paper and formally theorized Daylight Saving Time.

Whether or not they bit on Franklin’s joke, the strangers are widely credited with inventing today’s DST and tossing the entire planet out of whack.

DST 2.0: The concept of DST stayed on paper until Germany and its allies, looking to save on coal for combat, took up saving daylight during the First World War. The rest of Europe and Russia followed suit, with the United States jumping on board in 1918. Uncle Sam had a change of heart in 1919, and scrubbed the unpopular law from its books.

With the outbreak of World War II, Congress set the clocks back to DST. Saving time got the boot when the war effort wound down in 1945, but not before the measure’s stain set on the nation’s fabric.

States were left to manage their own erratic clocks over the course of the following three decades. Some opted for DST, some didn't. Others, like the forgotten state of sanity, faded into the patchwork altogether.

For five weeks out of the year, Boston, New York and Philly weren’t on the same time zone as D.C., but Chicago was, along with Cleveland and Baltimore. Travel and television schedules went bananas; on one 35-mile bus route between West Virginia and Ohio, passengers were expected to reset their watches seven times.

To reestablish some semblance of order, the feds stepped in and passed the Uniform Time Act in 1966, which fixed the union on a version of the standardized schedule we know today.

Controversy: Transportation agencies, sporting-goods stores, Clorox, and 7-Eleven were all early advocates of Daylight Saving Time, and lobbied Congress tooth and claw to bump clocks back and forth.

Whether or not DST produces anything beyond revenue for private interests and an extra hour of sunlight remains uncertain.

Recent studies cast doubt on the common perception that the world burns less fuel by rewinding clocks. Some find that consumers even rack up higher energy bills during DST, as gains made by cutting costs during the day are lost to added air conditioning bills at night.

Clockers in Indiana—who generally enjoy a lower price for electricity than the rest of the union—reportedly spend an additional $7 million a year observing DST.

Arizona decided the last thing it needed during its scorching summers was more daylight, and opted out of the Uniform Time Act. Aside from a sliver of the Navajo Nation in its northeastern corner, it remains the only continental U.S. state to completely shun DST.

Most Despicable Moment: When clocks jump ahead in spring, Amtrak trains speeding around the country automatically find themselves one hour behind schedule. When clocks fall back in November, trains otherwise running on time at 2 a.m. must stop for an hour to keep to their published timetables.

Most Redeemable Moment: In 1999, Palestinian terrorists armed with time bombs set to DST entered Israel, which had since reverted back to Standard Time. The lapse triggered the charges an hour early, killing three terrorist plotters before they could detonate the devices on their civilian targets.

Last Minute Nemesis List Reprieve? The benefits of saving daylight appear to wax and wane region to region around the globe, so it’s hard to fault the thing altogether.

But while we always welcome more sunlight to our receding days, DST should probably stay on TakePart’s Nemesis List for now, as every year seems to spawn the same questions about Daylight Saving Time.