"Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.”  

Jane Jacobs

The Mysteries Behind Daylight Saving Time

As tomorrow approaches, we anticipate the end to daylight saving time (yes that is correct, it is not savings) where we gain an extra hour of sleep and can stop going to work every morning in the dark. While I love one extra hour given each fall, I would gladly give it up to stay on daylight saving time year round to have an extra hour of light each evening in the winter. Living in a cold climate filled with snow, it would help the winter blues to have a little extra sun after work. Despite participating in DST for the past almost 3 decades of my life, I never knew much about the history and it turns out, what I did know was all based on misconceptions.

A postcard from 1918 promoting daylight saving time (image courtesy of the Library of Congress)

A postcard from 1918 promoting daylight saving time (image courtesy of the Library of Congress)

There are people on both sides of the argument for this 99 year old tradition, but the professions and people in favor are not who you would think. American farmers did not support the switch to DST to allow them to work in their fields longer. The cows they milked did not care that humans changed their clocks an hour and farmers still had to wait an hour for the morning dew to evaporate before they could harvest their hay. They even led a fight in 1919 to repeal the national DST. So if farmers did not want the new system, who did? 

Daylight saving time began as a wartime measure during World War I. America was not the first country to enact it, nor was Benjamin Franklin the first one to come up with the idea (another misinterpretation). While the founding father did write an essay in response to the sun waking him up at 6 a.m. stating that using sunshine instead of candles could save the modern day equivalent of $200 million, it was Englishman William Willet that led the first attempt to implement DST. In 1905 Willet tried to convince the United Kingdom to move the clocks forward 80 minutes between April and October to enjoy more daylight. He published a brochure "The Waste of Daylight" in 1907 and spent his life unsuccessfully trying to gain traction.

So if an American first penned the thought, an Englishman first tried to get it the system implemented, who was first to actually do it? Germany on April 30, 1916 jumped on board in order to conserve electricity during the war. Soon after the United Kingdom followed, along with the United States two years later. More than 140 countries adopted DST at some point in history, but most have abandoned it. Only about 25 percent of the countries in the wold use DST today. Most are located in Europe and North and South America.

A brochure advertising the passage of daylight saving time in America in 1918 (image courtesy of the Library of Congress)

A brochure advertising the passage of daylight saving time in America in 1918 (image courtesy of the Library of Congress)

What is most interesting is that after America adopted DST, they waited until 1966 to create any sense of uniformity. Following the successful repeal of the system in 1919, some states and cities maintained the biannual time shift. By 1965 there were 23 different start and end dates in Iowa alone. Even here in Minnesota we had two different sets of DST for Minneapolis and Saint Paul, cities that share a workforce. Imagine shifting an hour back and forth every day as you head to work in Saint Paul from your home in Minneapolis. The Uniform Time Act of 1966 standardized DST to be the last Sunday in April to the last Sunday in October, but allowed states the option of skipping the system altogether. That is what Hawaii and Arizona chose to do.

Why do we maintain a 100 year old system that was created to aid in wartime conservation? There is plenty of evidence that the time shifts not only annoy people, but lead to increased risk of heart attacks, decreased productivity, and increased work place accidents when the clocks spring forward. Proponents say it helps conserve energy, but a study by the Department of Energy noted DST did little to lower the power bill in 2007. Another study showed it actually increases energy use because of increased use of air conditioning in summer months. It appears the retail and entertainment sectors are the only benefactors to this system. More daylight in the evenings means more people shopping or attending evening shows in the warm summer months. 

As I sit here watching as the sun attempt to rise at 7:56 a.m., the last time before DST ends, I contemplate whether we should honor the almost 100 year old system or get rid of an archaic ritual that disrupts society twice a year. As a proponent of active city life and bringing people into public spaces I like the idea of more daylight hours for this to occur. But what does one hour really do? For centuries cities functioned without changing their clocks, relying on the rhythm of sunrise and sunset to conduct business. After we fall back tomorrow, we should just stay back. As Jonah Ryan would say, "it is time for the clock to run out on daylight saving time."

Jonah Ryan, a character on the TV show VEEP, giving his speech about ending daylight saving time.