Why do We Have Daylight Saving Time?

Niki Foster
Niki Foster

Daylight Saving Time, when the clock is set one hour ahead during the summer months, is observed in about 70 countries worldwide, including some in every populated continent. Originally Benjamin Franklin's idea, it is a little bit different everywhere it is practiced and has been controversial since its introduction. The clock change has two main purposes: to increase evening daytime hours for outdoor leisure activities and to save on energy consumption.

One of the purposes for daylight sayings is to reduce energy consumption.
One of the purposes for daylight sayings is to reduce energy consumption.

Benjamin Franklin first conceived the idea during a 1784 post as an American delegate in Paris. It was similar to his oft quoted maxim, "Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise." Half-jokingly, Franklin suggested that Parisians shift their sleep schedules an hour back in order to save on candles in the evening. He did not suggest changing the clock, however.

Benjamin Franklin was one of the earliest proponents of daylight savings time.
Benjamin Franklin was one of the earliest proponents of daylight savings time.

William Willett of London was the first to propose an actual clock shift to move an hour of daylight from the morning to the evening in his 1907 pamphlet, "Waste of Daylight." Though his efforts resulted in a 1909 bill drafted in the British Parliament, his idea was not respected during his lifetime, and he died in 1915 before seeing his plan come into effect.

A global map including time zone divisions.
A global map including time zone divisions.

World War I was the catalyst for many countries adopting Daylight Saving Time, as the potential for energy savings was attractive. Germany and Austria were the first, in 1916, followed quickly by Belgium, Denmark, France, Great Britain, Italy, Luxembourg, Manitoba, Netherlands, Norway, Nova Scotia, Portugal, Sweden, Turkey, and Tasmania. Australia and Newfoundland joined in in 1917, and the United States was a relative latecomer, beginning the practice in the spring of 1918. It was so unpopular it was repealed the next year, however, and though some cities and states retained the practice, it would not become national law again until World War II.

Daylight Saving Time sets the clock ahead one hour during the summer months.
Daylight Saving Time sets the clock ahead one hour during the summer months.

Daylight Saving Time has a long history of controversy, with vehement opinions on both sides of the debate. It is notoriously unpopular among farmers, who already have to deal with darkness in the morning and whose animals do not readily adjust to the clock change. Some people enjoy the increase of daylight in the evening, while others are annoyed by the darker mornings. The change has been shown to have a significant effect on energy savings, however, and though 70% of Americans rise before 7:00 a.m., the increased energy use in the morning is more than offset by the savings in the evenings.

Luxembourg was one of the first countries to adopt Daylight Saving Time during World War I.
Luxembourg was one of the first countries to adopt Daylight Saving Time during World War I.

The practice of changing the clocks has also caused a lot of confusion over the years, as it has not always been applied consistently. Its use was not standardized in the United States between 1945 and the Uniform Time Act of 1966, causing significant problems for transportation, broadcasting, and other industries that relied on a standard national time. Daylight Saving Time is also not always an hour's adjustment; it has variously been a time change of 20 minutes or two hours. In modern day Russia, as in Great Britain during World War II, clocks are an hour ahead of standard time in the winter and two hours ahead in summer. Many countries, including the United States, have gone through alternate periods of observing and failing to observe the change.

Germany adopted Daylight Saving Time in 1916.
Germany adopted Daylight Saving Time in 1916.

Since the Uniform Time Act of 1966, Daylight Saving Time has been mandated and standardized throughout the United States. States that do not wish to observe it must pass a separate state law. States that span two time zones are allowed to observe it in one of the state's time zones and not in the other, making time uniform throughout the state during the summer months. Beginning in 2007, the period in the United States was extended by three weeks in the spring and one week in the fall in order to increase energy savings, as mandated by the Energy Policy Act of 2005.

Belgium adopted Daylight Savings Time in 1916.
Belgium adopted Daylight Savings Time in 1916.
Australia adopted Daylight Savings Time in 1917.
Australia adopted Daylight Savings Time in 1917.
Niki Foster
Niki Foster

In addition to her role as a wiseGEEK editor, Niki enjoys educating herself about interesting and unusual topics in order to get ideas for her own articles. She is a graduate of UCLA, where she majored in Linguistics and Anthropology.

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Discussion Comments

anon999768

It is a 24/7 world. There is no energy saving when you have fast food places and Walmarts open until 3 am and giant office buildings keeping their lights and security systems on all night during closing hours. Along with the increased use of air conditioning in southern states, people no longer go to bed at 9:30 or 10pm like they used to in the 1940s (hint: they had no TV or electronic devices so there was nothing to do for long after dark. And what little nightlife existed in those days still ended mostly by 11pm or so).

The only rationale for DST that is left is one of profit and greed. People stay out to shop longer. Golf courses get more business in the evening hours. Never mind the fact that retail stores are dying and have been for years. Online shopping is where everyone is going. And how many people who can afford a sport like golf have to wait till they get off of work. Chances are they are either rich or retired!

I just read this dinger: Halloween industry is for DST because they can sell more candy because kids can trick or treat longer hours. Never mind the fact that they obviously don't care about children's heath issues such as early obesity and diabetes; we already know that big business doesn't care about people. But what out of touch executive came up with this one? It's the 21st century, not cozy 1950s small town suburbia. I hardly see any kids out trick or treating, even before dark. Anyone who has common sense and hasn't been living under their MBA for the last 30 years knows why trick or treat is all but non-existent in most modern neighborhoods.

Here is an idea. Just fall back and stay there since that was the default based on nature. You can't argue otherwise when during DST, the sun is in the noon position at 1:00 pm instead of 12:00 pm. If it ain't broke, don't try to fix it. Put it back and keep it there. And if enjoying more daylight hours is important to you, then change your lifestyle accordingly.

anon994957

Natural time, not man-made time is best. Living life too fast as is do not need to push it. I vote no to Daylight Savings Time.

anon989323

Let's have a national poll to see how many people hate Daylight Savings Time. If we moved the clocks forward 3 hours in spring then the stupidity of changing the time would become apparent to everyone. The people that like moving their clocks forward in spring, can move them forward 24 hours. Let's abolish Daylight Savings Time for the next 100 years and then take another national poll.

anon938209

@anon255300, Post 23: The reason it seems darker is because despite the clock saying it's 7 a.m., Nature did not get the memo about time change. Therefore, it is still only 6 a.m. according to Nature, which means it will only be as bright out at 7 a.m. as the real, actual time of 6 a.m. When will people get it through their heads that you can't fool the Sun?

anon938128

For over 30 years I've worked in a 24x7 environment. Each time DST begins, the midnight shift only works seven hours, but gets paid for eight hours. Production goes down. Each time DST ends, employees work nine hours, and there's nine hours of production, but due to overtime it costs 9.5 hours of pay, so production per dollar also suffers. Multiply that by thousands of private and government operations that work 24x7 and it runs into the millions of wasted dollars -- all for the "convenience" of DST.

anon324178

Seems like a no-brainer, except that Congress has to get involved.

anon255300

Before I set the clock to one hour ahead for spring, I would get up at 6 a.m. and shower and when I was finished showering it would be getting daylight, but now that I turned the clocks ahead 1 hour so technically now I'm getting up at 7 a.m. instead of 6 a.m., and when I'm done showering, it's still dark, and it doesn't start getting light until I'm done blow drying my hair.

I don't understand. If the clock is set one hour ahead it should be lighter in the morning, and not darker.

Can someone intelligent please explain to me so that my brain can understand this? It's not one hour back; it's one hour forward.

anon255113

Native American: When told the reason for daylight saving time the old Indian said, "Only a white man would believe that you could cut a foot off the top of a blanket and sew it to the bottom of a blanket and have a longer blanket." That is so true!

anon159760

I've been trying to figure out when we have daylight savings how many hours australia is away then. my boyfriend lives there and i want to have every chance to talk to him as i can because is in school and so am i. if you know, please comment back. thank you very much.

anon159562

I live in IL, and have never talked to one person who likes central standard time or who likes changing time. Congress can't seem to get anything else right, but if they could put us on permanent daylight savings time, that would be great.

I spend time in AZ and they never change time. It is great.

anon159409

Let's just move the clocks ahead 1/2 hour and be done with it. Forever.

anon159408

I think we should set clocks ahead eight hours and then the sun would stay up all the time!

anon139400

I rest better when the clock goes back. I am not as tired as in the summer. Keep it back.

anon125241

It's the government pushing us around. It's stupid. It gets dark at 4:00 p.m. here in Washington.

anon124437

The idiot in the State house in Indiana made us start changing in 2006. His claim was it would save Indiana money and jobs. Go figure. My energy bills are the same on usage now as before, Thousands of jobs have left for Asia. Mitch sold the toll road, that was suppose to become a freeway, to Austrans to put money into state coffers. now there is talk of him running for president. Stupidity runs supreme!

anon124412

In NJ, the "Fall back" part causes it to be dark at 4:30pm in the afternoon! Not saving much daylight there!

anon124324

I like Daylight Savings Time. During the winter we get some extra light in the morning which is nice, but during the summer we get a precious hour of extra light to enjoy the warm weather. A perfect idea! Let's keep what we have.

anon123494

I don't really care if it's daylight savings time or standard time. My thing is, *pick* one and stay with it!

anon112883

My wife and I think that daylight savings time is the best as it gives everyone more light. Daylight Savings should be made year around. From what I have heard it is up to Congress so Congress should change to Daylight Savings year around.

anon71080

I hate this daylight savings time too! Please let's stick to standard time!

anon60140

I also think daylight savings is ridiculous. It interrupts sleep patterns for at least a week twice a year, and all states don't observe it anyway. There are only so many hours of daylight in a day, period. It doesn't matter what time you set your clock to.

anon50899

My question is why are the clocks only set forward or backward an hour? Why not two hours or more?

anon50726

Dark at 5.30 p.m. they can do better than that.

anon29574

I would love to see Daylight Saving Time abolished. I love that about the blanket. Too true. We would do better to adjust our hours individually for what we do. Those of us who really work for a living don't have the energy after work to go do fun stuff anyway (partly because the time change wore us out), but we're guilted into going somewhere and doing something because we have the daylight to do it.

Our kids are exhausted and running on junk food because they don't learn to wind down and go to bed. Then they can't stay awake in school, don't learn squat, eat a bunch of sugar to stay up (see a pattern forming?). Let's just try not doing DST for one year and see what happens.

anon15106

The best and only REAL definitive answer I have ever received is as follows - Of course it was given my a Native American: When told the reason for daylight saving time the old Indian said...

"Only a white man would believe that you could cut

a foot off the top of a blanket and sew it to the

bottom of a blanket and have a longer blanket." That is so true!

anon9542

In my mind we should stop setting our clocks backward and forwards, and let time function as it has for centuries.

stare31

After many years of thinking pushing the clock back would save in energy costs, a University of California study has shown, rather conclusively researchers say, that daylight saving time does not save money. In fact, that study, which released its results to the public in 2008, showed that pushing the clocks back actually *increased* utility bills, albeit relatively slightly. While the study did show that lighting costs went down, increases were seen in the areas of heating and cooling costs. People were waking up earlier and therefore turned on the heaters at home earlier, and people were coming home earlier and in the summer months this meant they turned on their own air conditioners rather than benefited from the air conditioners at work. Maybe its time to abandon daylight saving time altogether!

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