Jenni Gritters

Apr 2nd 2018

The History Behind Daylight Saving Time


Every year, most Americans turn their clocks an hour forward in spring and then an hour back in fall, thanks to daylight saving time. While urban legends might have you believe that daylight saving time was one of Benjamin Franklin’s inventions or has something to do with farmers, the truth is somewhat murkier.

The History of Daylight Saving Time

According to National Geographic, Franklin penned a satirical essay about the financial benefits of waking up early in 1784. He jokingly suggested all sorts of measures for implementing a new system of early wake-up. Some historians still put daylight saving time on Benjamin Franklin’s inventions list in spite of his satirical tone: “‘It’s easy to say Franklin was just joking, and of course he was spoofing the French for being lazy,'” Tufts University professor Michael Downing, author of Spring Forward: The Annual Madness of Daylight Saving Time, told National Geographic. “‘But he was a big thrift guy … He couldn’t stop noticing things that could be done more efficiently if they were done his way. So I think in the end it wasn’t entirely a joke.'”

Daylight saving time has historically sparked interest in countries outside the United States too. In 1905, Englishman William Willett led a campaign to move the clocks forward by 80 minutes so people could enjoy more sunlight. Willett made it his life’s mission to implement this change, but he died in 1915 without seeing his dream come true, according to the BBC.

On April 30, 1916, Germany embraced daylight saving time as a way to save electricity during World War I. This change moved to the United States around the same time, also in an attempt to preserve resources during wartime, according to TIME. Contrary to popular belief, American farmers didn’t lobby for daylight saving time. They opposed the change because they followed the sun, not the clock, for farming procedures.

Bringing Daylight Saving Time Into Modern Day

In 1965, an 18-story office building in St. Paul, Minnesota, housed nine floors of employees who observed daylight saving time and nine floors of employees who did not, which is a perfect example of the confusion caused by nonpatterned time selections, said TIME. In 1966, Congress implemented the Uniform Time Act of 1966 to make things more standardized.

Today, almost every state in the U.S. participates, apart from Hawaii and Arizona. Some U.S. territories Guam, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, among others abstain from the system, too, simply because they’re closer to the equator and have more sunlight. Some Amish communities also choose to abstain from daylight saving time, given that it’s a man-made invention.

Are There Actually Any Benefits?

Daylight saving time can be controversial, and the data around its benefits is inconclusive.

According to ABC News, German researchers have found that daylight saving time could have long-term effects on our health by throwing off our circadian rhythms. Popular Mechanics argues the opposite, stating that extended sunlight during the first eight months of daylight saving are beneficial for your mental health and could increase your desire to exercise and socialize.

Whether this system is good or bad, TIME reports that critics and supporters alike acknowledge that daylight saving time is quite ingrained in the American system. It could take years and millions of dollars to dismantle.

If nation-wide puzzles around energy savings and time interest you, check out Northrop Grumman’s career page.