#MyrtleMondays: Spring Forward!

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.

Birmingham Railway Station circa 1860s—note the many clocks, none of which is in agreement with the others.

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.

Humorous railway timetable from Punch, 1865

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.

Prague’s Astronomical Clock has kept the city on time for six hundred years.

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.

An early effort to reconcile the relationship between time and distance in railway travel (Linda Hall Library)

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.

George Hudson illustration of New Zealand insects, 1892 (more easily observed in daylight)

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.”

1918 poster advocating the time change

Read more about Daylight Savings/War Time and World War I at the Library of Congress.

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).  The debate rages on, however. Advocates for doing away with the annual time changes have been lobbying Congress for several years, and Current legislation stands before Congress proposing a permanent shift to Daylight Savings Time, with each faction citing scientific research on their side.

This night owl, however, loves the annual shift. Winter nights are snug and cozy, summer days are long and lazy (or, more to the point, productive). All you haters, go back to bed. I’ll enjoy my extra sunshine, thank you!

One Response to “#MyrtleMondays: Spring Forward!”

  1. Natalie Aguirre

    Glad you’re enjoying springing forward. It hasn’t been bad adjusting this year, and I’m looking forward to the extra light hours at the end of the day. I can’t help wondering, though, what it would be like to be on the same time all year long. Natalie @ Literary Rambles