Beginning the first week of November, Americans will be turning their clocks back one hour for Daylight Savings Time (DST). This "fall back" returns most of the country to Standard Time (ST) giving many of us that cherished extra hour of sleep when the weather is getting colder out and the sun is taking longer to rise. How did the United States come to adopt this odd rule of changing the time to spring forward and fall back? Who came up with this idea to adjust our clocks and has DST fixed the behavior it was intended to change?
Benjamin Franklin & Daylight Savings Time
Benjamin Franklin, famous for many quotes including "early to bed, early to rise, makes one healthy, wealthy and wise", first conceived of DST during his time spent in Paris in the late 18th century. Ever mindful of thrift and virtue, Franklin realized during his time in Paris that had an early sunrise not awoken him from sleep he would have slept until 11 or 12 o’clock. Waking so late in the day meant Franklin was wasting precious daylight hours, a time when natural light was free and he did not have to burn expensive oil or candles to read and write. Franklin set about analyzing the impact of adjusting time to allow for longer daylight hours and determined French families in Paris could save 65,000,000 of tallow (animal fat used for candles) by setting clocks back an hour to allow for more hours of sunshine.
Although Ben Franklin conceived of daylight savings time over 200 years ago, it wasn’t until World War I, the Great War, that America adopted the practice of changing time. In 1918, the United States adopted a federal law standardizing the annual start and finish to DST for the states that chose to observe it. The justification for adopting DST was exactly the reason Franklin had devised the concept: to conserve energy. Longer daylight hours freed up resources that the country could use as it entered a far-flung war across the Atlantic.
During World War II, the United States took DST a step further in its effort to conserve precious resources and redirect these for the war effort. From September 1942 until September 1945, the federal government observed daylight savings time year round, making DST the new standard time. Just as before, DST was implemented to save energy.
Observing Daylight Savings Time in the 2000's
The Arab oil embargo of 1973 once again pushed the United States to conserve energy resources. During this war, the government once again extended daylight savings time in hopes of reducing energy consumption and limiting the effects on our economy. Research showed DST did work and helped reduce electricity usage by approximately 1% during this crisis.
The most recent modification to daylight savings time happened during the second term of George W. Bush’s presidency. In 2005 Congress passed the Energy Policy Act of 2005 which officially set the beginning and end dates of DST. Beginning in 2007, this legislation mandated the official start date of daylight savings time as the second Sunday of March. The official end of DST was set at the first Sunday of November. It is worth noting that not all states in America observe DST. Arizona and Hawaii do not observe changing of the clocks.
Does Daylight Savings Time Really Drive Productivity?
Various studies have been conducted by the government to determine if DST does impact energy consumption. Most recently, a study performed by the Department of Energy in 2008 found that extending DST for four weeks saved 0.5% of electricity per day. While this does not sound like much, the amount of electricity consumed in the United States daily means this is enough power for 100,000 homes. Surely this benefit justifies DST.
On a personal note, I get up with the sun. Doesn’t matter what time I’ve set the alarm for, as soon as that morning sun shines through the window I’m up and at it. If daylight savings time means the sun is up earlier causing me to get up earlier I’m all for it.
This means a big thank you is in order to Ben Franklin. He was right about the extra hours of daylight and without him I would probably sleep later than I should.