The Contentious Visual History of Daylight Savings Time

Ah, Daylight Savings Time. Those of us who spend our days fantasizing about a few more hours of sleep rejoice when it comes to an end—tomorrow, by the way. The tradition is arguably outdated, sensible, perhaps, for a pre-electricity world and probably not excellent for your health if you’re a 9-to-5er.

As many are well aware, Benjamin Franklin is generally considered the first to propose Daylight Savings Time in a series of letters and essays, including one to the Journal de Paris in 1784 entitled (in English) “An Economical Project.” What often escapes the notice of those who tout this fact is that Franklin’s letter erred heavily on the side of tongue-in-cheek, parodying his own love of thrift and poking fun at the fact that Parisians rarely rose before noon.

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Whether he was entirely serious about the proposal or writing mostly in jest, he calculated the “immense savings” Parisians might enjoy if they took measures to rise with the sun and accomplish their business during daylight hours:

“183 nights between 20 March and 20 September times 7 hours per night of candle usage equals 1,281 hours for a half year of candle usage. Multiplying by 100,000 families gives 128,100,000 hours by candlelight. Each candle requires half a pound of tallow and wax, thus a total of 64,050,000 pounds. At a price of thirty sols per pounds of tallow and wax (two hundred sols make one livre tournois), the total sum comes to 96,075,000 livre tournois.

An official Daylight Savings time did not go into effect until 1916, when Germany and Austria-Hungary sought to conserve coal during the first World War by implementing Sommerziet, or “Summer Time.” The United States and Great Britain followed suit shortly thereafter, with U.S. Daylight Savings Time first arriving in 1918. But it wasn’t exactly successful at first. Rural populations in particular resisted the move, thinking that it would give farm workers an excuse to stop working at sunset.

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Cartoon by Clifford Barryman (1869 – 1949)

Note the strange little clock man who haunted Uncle Sam in these ads for the United Cigar Stores Company:

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The practice was partially discontinued following World War I, then reinstituted among many Western countries during the second World War. In the U.S., it was known as “War Time,” implemented by Franklin Roosevelt in 1942. Thereafter, it was loosely and poorly implemented across various states, mostly east of the Mississippi.

The lack of consistency (obviously) proved confusing, so in 1966, Daylight Savings Time as we know it became standard with the passage of the federal Uniform Time Act. Of course, not all states played along; some were able to declare exemptions. Even today—after it was extended in 1973 and modified as late as 2007—the history of Daylight Savings Time, and its future, remains a fluctuating and contentious topic.

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A 1966 political cartoon representing the confusing management of daylight-saving time from the “Philadelphia Inquirer.” 


 

 

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