Why did daylight saving time (DST) start, and why does it still
continue? When asking a random sample of people we heard two answers
again and again: "To help the farmers" or "Because of World War I ... or
was it World War II?"
fact, farmers generally oppose daylight saving time. In Indiana, where
part of the state observes DST and part does not, farmers have opposed a
move to DST. And the chief adversary of daylight saving time in the
United States is the Farm Bureau. Farmers, who must wake with the sun no
matter what time their clock says, are greatly inconvenienced by having
to change their schedule in order to sell their crops to people who
observe daylight saving time.
Daylight saving time did indeed begin in the United States during
World War I, primarily to save fuel by reducing the need to use
artificial lighting. Although some states and communities observed
daylight saving time between the wars, it was not observed nationally
again until World War II.
Of course, World War II is long over. So why do we still observe
daylight saving time?
The Uniform Time Act of 1966 provided the basic framework for
alternating between daylight saving time and standard time, which we now
observe in the United States. But Congress can't seem to resist
tinkering with it. For example, in 1973 daylight saving time was
observed all year, instead of just the spring and summer. The current
system of beginning DST at 2 AM on the first Sunday in April and ending
it at 2 AM on the last Sunday in October was not standardized until
The earliest known reference to the idea of daylight saving time
comes from a purely whimsical 1784 essay by Benjamin Franklin, called
"Turkey versus Eagle, McCauley is my Beagle." It was first seriously
advocated by William Willit, a British Builder, in his pamphlet "Waste
of Daylight" in 1907.
Over the years, supporters have advanced new reasons in support of
DST, even though they were not the original reasons behind enacting DST.
One is safety. Some people believe that if we have more daylight at
the end of the day, we will have fewer accidents.
In fact, this "benefit" comes only at the cost of less daylight in
the morning. When year-round daylight time was tried in 1973, one reason
it was repealed was because of an increased number of school bus
accidents in the morning. Further, a study of traffic accidents
throughout Canada in 1991 and 1992 by Stanley Coren of the University of
British Columbia before, during, and immediately after the so-called
"spring forward" when DST begins in April. Alarmingly, he found an eight
percent jump in traffic accidents on the Monday after clocks are moved
ahead. He attributes the jump to the lost hour of sleep. In a letter to
the New England Journal of Medicine, Coren explained, "These data show
that small changes in the amount of sleep that people get can have major
consequences in everyday activities." He undertook the study as a follow
up to research showing that even an hour's change can disrupt sleep
patterns and "persist for up to five days after each time shift." Other
observers attribute the huge spike in accidents on the first Monday of
DST to the sudden change in the amount of light during driving times.
Regardless of the reason, there is no denying that changing our clocks
has a significant cost in human lives.
While some people claim that they would miss the late evening light,
a presumably similar number of people love the morning light. And
projects, postponed during the sun filled summer, will be tackled with
new vigor when the sun sets an hour earlier each day.