daylight saving time

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DAYLIGHT SAVING TIME. Traditionally, Americans adjusted their hours to fit changes in daylight. Farmers, as well as railroads, steamship lines, shops, and factories changed their hours of operation seasonally. These seasonal schedules declined after American railroads implemented standard time zones in 1883. In 1907, an English builder and golfer named William Willett proposed the basic outline of what became daylight saving time. His plan found ready ears in the United States.

American commercial interests began pushing for "more daylight," especially the burgeoning leisure time industry. An hour of light after work meant bigger crowds at ball games, amusement parks, and department stores. Commercial interests seized on the fact that in 1916, some European nations adopted "fast time" to promote efficiency and save fuel. The U.S. Senate began investigating daylight saving time that year, hearing testimony from the "National Daylight Saving Convention," a lobbying group of businessmen, chambers of commerce, and trade organizations. In 1917, these groups tied daylight saving to patriotism, efficiency, and economy, urging, "mobilize an extra hour of daylight and help win the war." Although no savings of fuel was ever demonstrated, in March 1918 Congress passed a bill to "save daylight and provide a standard time." Besides establishing a period of summer daylight saving, the bill made standard time zones into national law.

Daylight saving met with considerable skepticism, primarily from those on the borders of existing time zones, and workers who rose extremely early. On the western edge of the eastern zone, adopting daylight saving put clocks nearly two hours ahead of the daylight. Farmers in those regions resisted daylight saving because it forced them to start too early in the morning. Labor organizations, including the American Federation of Labor, also resented rising in deeper darkness so middle-class businessmen might play golf after work. Additional objections called the measure absurd, like robbing Peter to pay Paul, while a minority detested changes to "God's time." Some businesses, particularly the movie industry, lost sales under daylight saving.

Repealed in 1919, daylight saving remained in use by local option until the Uniform Time Act of 1966 made daylight saving national law. During World War II, year-round daylight saving prevailed, and in 1974 President Richard Nixon, reacting to the first energy crisis, set the clocks ahead for fifteen months. In 1986, lobbied by the makers of sporting goods, charcoal grills, and insect repellants, Congress established calendar dates in early April and late October for daylight saving.


Bartky, Ian, and Elizabeth Harrison. "Standard and Daylight Saving Time." Scientific American 240 (May 1979): 46–53.

O'Malley, Michael. Keeping Watch: A History of American Time. New York: Viking, 1990.


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daylight saving time (DST), time observed when clocks and other timepieces are set ahead so that the sun will rise and set later in the day as measured by civil time. The amount of daylight on a given day of the year at a given latitude is fixed, but over the year the hours of sunrise and sunset vary from day to day. During the summer months, the sun rises earlier and sets later and there are more hours of daylight. If clocks and other timepieces are set ahead in the spring by some amount (usually one hour), the sun will rise and set later in the day as measured by those clocks. This provides more usable hours of daylight for activities that occur in the afternoon and evening, such as outdoor recreation. Daylight saving time can also be a means of conserving electrical and other forms of energy. In the fall, as the period of daylight grows shorter, clocks are set back to correspond to standard time.

Benjamin Franklin, when serving as U.S. minister to France, wrote an article recommending earlier opening and closing of shops to save the cost of lighting. In England, William Willett in 1907 began to urge the adoption of daylight saving time. During World War I the plan was adopted in England, Germany, France, and many other countries. In the United States, Robert Garland of Pittsburgh was a leading influence in securing the introduction and passage of a law (signed by President Wilson on Mar. 31, 1918) establishing daylight saving time in the United States. After World War I the law was repealed (1919). In World War II, however, national daylight saving time was reestablished by law on a year-round basis. National year-round daylight saving time was adopted as a fuel-saving measure during the energy crisis of the winter of 1973–74. In late 1974, standard time was reinstituted for the winter period. In 1987 federal legislation fixed the period of daylight saving time in the United States as the first Sunday (previously the last Sunday) in April to the last Sunday in October; it was expanded in 2005 (effective 2007) to extend from the second Sunday in March to the first Sunday in November. Arizona and Hawaii do not use daylight saving time.

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day·light sav·ing time (also day·light sav·ings time) • n. time as adjusted to achieve longer evening daylight, esp. in summer, by setting the clocks an hour ahead of the standard time.