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The origin of Daylight Saving

By Edited May 23, 2015 0 0

How Daylight Saving came about.

The main objective of the Daylight Saving system is for people to make better use of daylight, which is longer during the summer, particularly for countries in the temperate latitudes.

Origin of the modern Daylight Saving system  

In 1784, Benjamin Franklin, during his stint as an American delegate in Paris, first came up with the idea of daylight saving in his essay “An Economical Project for Diminishing the Cost of Light”. Franklin’s essay touched on how much resources could be saved if natural lighting could replace artificial ones (i.e. candles and oil lamps), particularly during summer when the day is long. In short, by shifting the clock during summer, people could make better use of the longer daylight. While interesting, the idea remained a topic of academic discussion.

More than a century passed before another individual conceived of a system that would let people make better use of the longer day during summer. The modern Daylight Saving system was first proposed by George Vernon Hudson, an entomologist in New Zealand. In 1895, Hudson proposed to the Wellington Philosophical Society to set up a two-hour daylight-saving shift. Unfortunately for Hudson, while there was considerable interest for his proposal, it was not followed through in New Zealand.

In 1907, William Willett, an Englishman, proposed putting forward the clock during the summer months. In his pamphlet, "Waste of Daylight", Willett suggested a system that would shift the clocks forward by 20 minutes on each of four Sundays in April, and revert them by the same time on four Sundays in September. Willett’s proposal was supported by Robert Pearce, a Liberal Member of Parliament, who subsequently introduced the first Daylight Saving Bill to the House of Commons in 1909.  However, as the bill faced consideration opposition from the farming community, it did not become law.

During World War One, in order to save fuel for the war effort, Germany and her allies decided to introduce Daylight Saving in 1916. They were quickly followed by Britain and other European countries, which did not want to be at a strategic disadvantage vis-à-vis Germany. In 1917, Russia also followed suit. The United States adopted the system in 1918. However, the introduction of Daylight Saving in these countries was not a smooth-sailing one, as it caused much confusion among the general public, who was not used to the implications of the time change. Many felt that the system was disruptive to time-keeping, travelling schedules, record-keeping and even sleep patterns. Because of this, the system was abandoned once World War One was over, though it was re-introduced during World War Two, mainly for its energy-saving benefits.

After World War Two

Despite the initial opposition and reluctance, people, over a period of time of its implementation, could now see the benefits of the Daylight Saving system, such as energy-saving measures, better utilization of natural light and an improved socio-economic life (i.e. more activities could be carried out during daylight). Hence, the general public became more receptive towards the system.

However, during its early phase of implementation, there was still some confusion as different states in the US had differing standards of whether and when they would observe Daylight Saving. This often threw many transport and broadcast schedules into disarray. In response, the US Congress decided to establish the Uniform Time Act of 1966 which explicitly stated that Daylight Saving would start on the last Sunday of April and end on the last Sunday of October. (After the Energy Policy Act of 2005, the Daylight Saving schedule in the US was changed to start on the second Sunday of March and end on the first Sunday of November.) Nonetheless, it is not mandatory in the US for all states to observe Daylight Saving. For example, Arizona, Hawaii, the territories of Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands, Guam and American Samoa stay on "standard time" all year long. 

Daylight Saving around the world

Many countries, particularly those in the temperate latitudes, are now using the Daylight Saving system, although their start and end dates are different from that of the US. (For example, in the European Union, since 1996, Daylight Saving begins on the last Sunday of March and ends on the last Sunday of October.) It has been estimated that more than 1.5 billion people live in 70 countries that currently adopt the Daylight Saving system. Among the industrialised nations, only China, India and Japan do not observe some form of Daylight Saving. (During the US Occupation of Japan after World War Two, Daylight Saving was introduced, but it was abandoned in 1952 due to strong opposition by the Japanese agricultural community.)

Countries in the tropics generally do not observe Daylight Saving, mainly because the length of the day does not fluctuate during the year. 

Daylight Saving Time


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