A Brief History of Daylight Savings Time

I’m watching the sun set, shortly after 4pm on a Monday afternoon.

Winter is all downhill from here.

Officially, we are now back on Standard Time, but the luxuriously long days of summer make the idea of “daylight saving” seem trivial. In Boston, the 2015 Summer solstice enjoyed 15 hours and 17 minutes of daylight. Our Winter solstice will see just 9 hours and 4 minutes of natural light.

No amount of adjusting the time will create more sunlight in a day.

So why do we do this terrible dance from Standard time to Daylight Savings, and tragically back to Standard?

In April 1916, residents of the German Empire were the first to turn their clocks back – this “summer time” schedule was intended to conserve energy for the war effort. (Interestingly, Berlin’s Summer solstice sees nearly 17 hours of daylight!).

The idea was presumably effective, as it was adopted by other European countries shortly thereafter. (Though there are some indications that the move wasn’t entirely popular outside the major cities.)

In 1918, the U.S. Congress passed the Standard Time Act, an “An Act to save daylight and to provide standard time, for the United States.”

Summer time was generally discontinued after the war.

Daylight Savings was so unpopular in the United States that Congress overrode a Presidential veto and repealed its implementation effective the last Sunday of October, 1919.

In 1942, Congress implemented “war time,” which established that “the standard time of each zone…shall be advanced one hour [until] 6 months after the termination of the present war.”

After the war, many cities and states kept the adjusted time for summer months. While others dropped the adjusted time all together. As Wikipedia comments, “In the 1964 Official Railway Guide, 21 of the 48 states had no DST anywhere.”

In 1966, things began to change. The Uniform Time Act was the first to set national dates for transitioning to and from Daylight Savings Time. It encouraged states to participate in the time change, though states did have the right to opt-out.

Interestingly, the Act transferred management of the time change from the Interstate Commerce Commission to the Department of Transportation.

The specific times and dates of change have been adjusted a few times since then, but it’s that 1966 Act which really established Daylight Savings Time as we know it.


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