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I posted the following article on daylight saving time on LinkedIn a few days ago …

Nearly everyone has a view on daylight saving time. They either hate it or they’re okay with it. The views of those who hate it are usually stronger than those who like it. But how did it all start? The idea for daylight saving first came from Benjamin Franklin in 1784 when he recommended that Parisians go to bed earlier and get up earlier, thereby using more natural light and saving on candles. He didn’t suggest changing the clock. Nor did he use the term ‘daylight saving’. Standard time was still best part of a century away, let alone daylight saving time. 

It was the railways that forced the introduction of standard time in the 19th century. Trains had to run to a set timetable rather than local time which differed slightly from one town to the next. Railway companies in the UK decided to use Greenwich time which had been used for navigation and astronomy since 1675. Then the US came up with uniform time zones for its railroads. Nearly everyone in both countries and many other nations soon followed railway time. Governments caught up later, eventually legislating for standard time. 

Before long, there were proposals to shift the clock forward to take advantage of extra daylight late in the day for gardening, cricket and other activities, and to save on artificial light. The first person to suggest this was New Zealand postal clerk George Hudson in 1895. He advocated a two hour clock change in the warmer months and called the scheme seasonal time. But there wasn’t much interest and he didn’t pursue it.  

Ten years later, English builder William Willett began developing a plan to shift some of the early morning daylight to later in the day to allow people more exercise and recreation and to save power. He was relentless in his efforts to promote his plan and get it accepted, writing to all politicians and hundreds of businesses and councils. He produced 19 editions of his booklet, The Waste of Daylight, and toured the land promoting his scheme, all at his own expense. He got a lot of support but also plenty of opposition from farmers, international traders, some other businesses, media, railways and scientists. 

The term daylight saving was probably coined by Robert Pearce, member for Leek, Staffordshire, who had the first bill for the scheme, the Daylight Saving Bill, in 1908. After eight years of parliamentary bills, daylight saving finally became a reality in 1916 in the middle of World War I, not first in the UK but in Germany. The primary reason countries adopted the measure was to save fuel for the war effort and by 1918, 27 countries on both sides of the war were using it although Australia had already abandoned it in 1917. Many discarded the scheme after the war. Only 14 countries still had daylight saving in 1922. 

In the interwar period, daylight saving time in the US and Canada was up to the states/provinces, counties, and cities and towns, starting one of the most chaotic periods of daylight saving ever. In many areas, a state might legislate for either standard or daylight time while counties and cities often did the opposite. Businesses and individuals would end up choosing for themselves. Many court cases were fought over trying to decide the time. In some places, most factories, shops and local transport might be on daylight saving time and most churches, schools, banks and long distance trains on standard time. People in the same building were often on different times as were people in the same household with the father’s employer using daylight saving, the children’s school on standard time and the mother on both times.  

World War II saw many countries take up daylight saving time again to save energy. Sixty-two nations had it in 1942, including Australia. The number fell away to 13 in 1950, 14 in 1960 and 16 in 1970. Clock chaos returned in postwar US until daylight saving went national in 1967. The oil crises of the 1970s meant 48 countries had daylight saving by 1980, increasing to 75 in 1990. The main reason for daylight saving changed from conserving fuel to lifestyle with many people enjoying lighter evenings for shopping, recreation and sport. A total of 63 countries put clocks forward in 2016, down from 67 in 2000 and 2010. A number of Asian, African and South American countries have dropped out in recent decades. 

Controversies continue with the measure. In broad terms, city people like daylight saving and rural people don’t. In the US, all states except Hawaii and most of Arizona have the scheme although about half the states had bills in their legislatures in 2015 or 2016 seeking exemption from daylight saving. None has been passed so far. In recent years, most Britons have wanted single double summer time although no bill has got through both houses with Scotland being a sticking point. Australia seems very unlikely to ever have national daylight saving time again as Queensland and Western Australia are opposed to the scheme although the issue keeps coming up in both states. 

My new book on daylight saving time, The Great Daylight Saving Time Controversy, is now available at Amazon (https://www.amazon.com/dp/B06Y2R5KQ7), Kobo, Apple and Google.

DST book cover