Yesterday was one of my very most favorite days of the whole year! People fall into two camps about Daylight Savings Time (called Summer Time in the UK), and I am firmly in Camp Loving It. Let’s take a quick look back in time to find out who we have to thank for our extra hour of glorious daylight.
Daylight Savings Time was not firmly adopted in the United States until the Uniform Time Act of 1966, which is overseen by the Department of Transportation. What does the DOT have to do with telling time, you ask? It turns out, everything.
We’ve discussed how railways fundamentally changed the face of Britain and North America, but they also changed our schedules. Historically, times were set in each town and displayed on the local town clock.
But the complex system of trains rushing this way and that at breakneck speeds meant both the danger of missing your connection—or making the connection a little more violently than planned. In an effort to streamline schedules and prevent collisions, North American railways came together in 1883 and established a standardized system of time that ruled the nation’s railroads. Read more on the decades-long development of modern time zones thanks to the Transcontinental Railroad at the Linda Hall Library of Science and Technology.
But the notion of Daylight Savings Time would take a little longer to catch on—and anyone who’s ever chased fireflies on a summer evening or listened to cicadas herald nightfall in the Midwest can thank our insect friends for the idea. New Zealand entomologist and astronomer George Vernon Hudson pined wistfully for more daylight to enjoy one of his passions (even if it came at the expense of practicing the other), and made the suggestion of a two-hour time shift in an 1895 paper to the Wellington Philosophical Society.
Although Hudson is generally given credit for the concept of modern Daylight Savings Time, his idea wasn’t put into practice until the 20th century. Two neighboring towns in Ontario, Canada, were the first to spring forward in 1908. But it took a world war for the concept to gain global popularity. Germany adopted the time change in 1916 as a way to save fuel during the war, and America followed suit by shifting the clocks ahead for “War Time.”
The new practice was short-lived, however, and by the end of the war, the US was back to a single standard time. The notion cropped up again during World War II, and this time many states and municipalities stuck with it… and many didn’t, causing echoes of the chronological confusion of the 19th century railways. Finally, the government stepped in with the Uniform Time Act, putting an end to (most of) the chaos (some states and cities still don’t follow DST).
…But not the grumbling. All you haters, go back to bed. We’ll enjoy our extra sunshine, thank you.