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Daylight saving time starts again today (March 11) in the United States. This excerpt from my book on the history of daylight saving time around the world, The Great Daylight Saving Time Controversy, looks at the lead-up and result of the Uniform Time Act of 1966. The US had suffered a chaotic time with daylight saving since the end of World War II with states and municipalities basically going their own way. By 1966, 18 states plus the District of Columbia had daylight saving throughout, 13 states had daylight saving in part of the state and 19 had it in no part (see the table that shows which states were in which category towards the end of chapter 13 of my book; I can’t reproduce it here).  Here’s the excerpt …

Congress had become increasingly concerned over the years by the haphazard approach to daylight saving across the country, especially in those states where individual counties and municipalities went their own way. Many bills for uniform time were introduced but few made it to either house for debate and a vote. In February 1948, Kansas senator Clyde Reed had a bill for national daylight saving from the last Sunday in April until the last Sunday in September each year. But Congress didn’t seem game to look at universal daylight time so soon after the controversies it had brought during the war. He got little support. One senator wrote him a letter strongly opposing the measure, closing with “Disgustingly yours”.

New representative Harley Staggers of West Virginia introduced the first of his annual daylight saving bills into Congress in 1949 “after citizens from cities as well as rural areas complained of the confusion resulting from the ‘two-clock system’ during the summer months”, he said. A few of his bills got to the committee hearings stage but no further. In 1959, he gave up on daylight saving and tried a bill for standard time, just keen to get all of the country’s clocks on one time or the other rather than have a confusing mess each summer. Next year, he was back with daylight saving and, for the first time, his bill got a hearing by the House Interstate Commerce Committee. In 1962, his bill was for standard time again.

Bodies such as the Interstate Commerce Commission and the Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations were keen for Congress to enact uniform daylight saving. More bills were drafted, including by Staggers and other members, often with his involvement. A New York newspaper [The Kingston Daily Freeman] described the US time problem as a Gordian knot that “needs to be slashed with one mighty cut”. The ICC described the system as one of “increasing chaos”. More and more farmers agreed that a uniform time system, even if it included daylight saving, was better than the present costly and confused patchwork of times.

A House commerce subcommittee approved by a vote of 9 to 8 a bill introduced by Staggers in 1964 that did away with the term “daylight saving” and instead used the four existing time zones, Pacific, Mountain, Central and Eastern, and added a new one, Atlantic time. From late April to late October, the whole of the area covered by each time zone would shift one zone to the east. For example, the Mountain zone would move to the Central zone, meaning that the region would be on Mountain Standard Time in winter and Central Standard Time in summer. People in the Eastern zone would be on Atlantic Standard Time in the warmer months. While the bill had no binding provisions for states and communities to go along with it, the author felt few areas wouldn’t welcome uniform time. Common start and end dates would be mandatory for any location using the scheme. Federal agencies and interstate transport bodies would have to comply. The Senate Commerce Committee approved a similar bill. But the current Congress session ended without the bills progressing further.

With Harley Staggers now chairman of the House Interstate and Foreign Commerce Committee from January 1966, bills for nationwide daylight saving were thought to have a better chance of getting through the chamber. The issue was his hobby horse. His varied background before being elected to Congress, including science teacher, head coach, sheriff, brakeman, rubber maker, silk mill worker, field hand, highway right of way agent, county rent control director, state director of the Office of War Information, and lieutenant commander and navigator in the US Naval Air Corps, perhaps enabled him to see the daylight saving time issue from more perspectives than most people. He gave the matter high priority.

The committee was looking at a plan where states that chose to adopt daylight saving used set dates of the last Sunday in April to the last Sunday in October and for a whole state to either use it or stick with standard time. This differed from a bill the Senate had passed the previous year that allowed local option. The House passed its own bill by a ratio of better than three to one on 16 March and sent it to the Senate. But the upper house added an amendment that permitted a state to split into two parts and have daylight time in one part and standard time in the other. Staggers called for a meeting to sort out differences. The updated bill required uniform changeover dates in all areas observing daylight saving in 1966 and for each state to use either standard or daylight time from 1967. If a state wanted to exempt itself from daylight saving, it had to legislate by 1 April of that year.

The Senate agreed to the compromise on 29 March 1966 and the House passed the bill by a vote of 281 to 91 next day. President Lyndon Johnson signed it on 14 April and it became the Uniform Time Act of 1966. After two decades of time turmoil, the United States seemed to have at last sorted out daylight saving with federal legislation rather than leaving it to states and communities. Railroad stations wouldn’t need clocks with two hour hands anymore. Many people thought time would no longer be a problem. Not so. [end of chapter]

With the Uniform Time Act, the US states had to decide if they were going to have daylight saving or stick to standard time all year. In 1966, counties, cities and towns in 13 states had chosen whether to use advanced time, legally or otherwise. Local areas would now have to go with whatever their state decided to do. Many businesses as well as television, radio, trains, planes, bankers and golfers liked daylight time, while farmers, theatre owners, restaurants, bowling alleys, and families with children heading off to school before sunrise didn’t want it. By and large, it was a city versus country dispute.

State legislatures swung into action and numerous bills were introduced in 1966 and 1967 to exempt no fewer than 25 states from daylight saving: Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio and South Dakota in the midwest, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas in the south and Arizona, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming in the west. Three state legislatures weren’t due to hold regular sessions in 1967: Kentucky, Virginia and Mississippi. Another complexity was that 12 states were split between two time zones and the western part of some of them had often used daylight saving in the past, meaning that both parts were on the same time in summer. The Uniform Time Act would cause the two areas to be an hour different all year.

Committees met, houses debated, and groups lobbied. …

(end of excerpt)

The Great Daylight Saving Time Controversy can be obtained from Amazon, Kobo and Apple in various countries around the world. Here’s the link to the US Amazon page: https://www.amazon.com/Great-Daylight-Saving-Time-Controversy-ebook/dp/B06Y2R5KQ7

DST book cover