Yesterday was one of the more welcome days of the year: daylight savings, when clocks “spring forward” one hour. Daylight hours are suddenly longer (at least for folks in northern areas); it feels like winter is finally ending.
But have you ever stopped to think about daylight savings, how it was dreamed up, and, more importantly, how it was implemented on such a vast scale? It’s actually quite interesting.
- The idea of Daylight Savings had been floating around for some years by the time warring nations began to adopt it in 1916, during the First World War, to save scarce energy resources.
- In the years after the war ended, some areas abandoned DST, some tinkered with it.
- By the 1950s and 1960s, the US was in chaos because local jurisdictions were allowed to adopt it (or not adopt it) as they saw fit, choosing whatever dates and times they liked to begin and end it. The state of Iowa alone had 23 pairs of start and end dates. For over one month of each year, cities like New York and Boston were not on the same time as Washington DC, but Chicago, in a different time zone, was.
- Daylight Savings sometimes causes riots. If a bar is open past 2 am (the hour clocks move forward), patrons might feel a bit aggrieved at losing an hour (and be told the bar is closing). It’s not unknown for them to get rowdy and clash with police.
- When DST was first implemented, protests were frequent, with people believing an hour of their lives had been “stolen”. Incidentally, the same thing happened centuries ago when the West adopted the Gregorian Calendar in favor of the Julian Calendar, a switch that required the dropping of over a week from one year to ensure the date on the calendar matched up with the actual date.
- In the US, DST was finally standardized in 1966 — fifty years after it was first introduced.
- But in the years since then, various business groups have lobbied for changes to benefit their industries. Retailers who might benefit from shorter days lobby for adjustment in their favor, while businesses who say longer days help them fund efforts to extend DST.
- In 2007, DST was moved forward in the calendar year, “falling back” on the first Sunday in November. It turns out that Halloween always sees a sudden spike in kids being injured and even killed in traffic accidents. It was thought that this was partly due to the time adjustment seeing it getting dark earlier. Turns out that pushing it back a few days did result in a drop in accidents involving kids.
So there you have it. It took a few decades, but eventually Daylight Savings became more or less standardized, coming into effect uniformly across North America. Well, aside from Hawaii and Arizona; they don’t observe it.
Just imagine your boss approaches you and says, “okay, we’ve decided to change the way we keep time. Draw up a plan to make it happen!”