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The following is an extract from my book on daylight saving time, The Great Daylight Saving Time Controversy, and shows how certain events in World War I initiated daylight saving time in the US for the first time in 1918. The ebook can be obtained from Amazon, Kobo Books, Apple and Google. See links at bottom …

… A German U-boat had sunk British passenger liner Lusitania in May 1915 with 128 Americans among the dead. President [Woodrow] Wilson had declared that “America was too proud to fight” and demanded an end to passenger ship attacks. Soon supporters of daylight saving were linking the idea to patriotism and efficiency, with slogans such as “mobilize an extra hour of daylight and help win the war”.

Then, in February 1917, America learned of a coded telegram sent the previous month by German foreign secretary Arthur Zimmermann via the German ambassador in Washington, D.C. to the German ambassador in Mexico. It asked that he persuade the Mexican government to become Germany’s ally against the United States in exchange for financial assistance and support to regain Texas, New Mexico and Arizona, lost in the Mexican-American War of 1846-1848. The telegram was intercepted by the British. The same message announced that Germany was starting unrestricted submarine warfare from 1 February. Over the next two months, a number of American merchant ships were attacked and three sank. This was the final straw.

On 2 April 1917, the first day of the new parliamentary session, Wilson asked Congress to declare war on Germany. Congress complied and on 6 April the United States was at war. Less than two weeks later, on 17 April, a bill calling for standard time and daylight saving time was drawn up by the National Daylight Saving Association and brought into Congress by [William] Borland [of Missouri] and senator William Calder of Brooklyn. The bill not only asked for five months of daylight saving, but to finally make railway time (effectively standard time) official, which had been observed by virtually the whole country for well over 30 years.

A long list of leading daylight saving supporters testified before the Senate committee, including [Marcus] Marks, [Robert] Garland, [Lincoln] Filene, George Renaud, C. M. Hayes and [Harold] Jacoby. They presented a wide range of arguments in favour of daylight saving, such as reduced fuel consumption, an increase in food production, improved health, and more time for recreation. Garland, for example, stated that the estimated number of incandescent lamps in America was 130 million and growing rapidly, and to illuminate them all for one hour a day from May to September took 937,000 tons of coal. The energy saved could be rechannelled into the war effort, he pointed out. Professor Robert Willson of Harvard University reminded the committee of how most cities near railway time zone boundaries chose the eastern zone and hence longer afternoons. Sidney Colgate of Colgate & Company spoke about his firm’s experiment in 1915, where it put clocks an hour ahead in July and August. A vote among staff found that 94 per cent wanted it to continue through September.

Meanwhile, very few places advanced their clocks in the summer of 1917. Two that did were the cities of Green Bay and Superior in Wisconsin although a number of businesses around the country and a few schools kept daylight saving hours. Perhaps the general thinking among communities was that national daylight saving was close and there was no need to go it alone.

As usual, farmers and the railways were against daylight saving time. The American Railway Association’s D. C. Stewart had calculated the number of timepieces at stations and on rail staff across the country at about 1.7 million and stressed to the committee that if just one clock or watch wasn’t changed correctly, there could be a terrible accident on one of the many single track lines.

While the reasons to have daylight saving were sufficient to carry the bill through the Senate on 27 June 1917, the bill’s path in the House of Representatives took much longer. Various government and business spokesmen supported the bill, and the press now largely favoured the scheme. P. S. Risdale of the National War Garden Commission said that daylight saving would add 910 million person hours of home vegetable gardening a year. This meant that more food produced by the large firms could be transported to America’s allies in Europe where millions of farm hands had been taken off the land to become soldiers, and countries were starving.

But farming and railway groups kept up their fierce opposition to daylight saving, as did many politicians. Some felt they couldn’t treat it as a pressing matter, such as representative Otis Wingo of Arkansas who commented:

“I do not know that I have any particular objection to this bill; I just decline to take it seriously. … A majority of the men who advocate this character of legislation have not seen the sun rise for twenty years. … This bill is for the relief of the slackers of the nation who are too lazy to get up early. … We should not be wasting our time on such bills, but should go on to the war-finance bill. … While our boys are fighting in the trenches, we are here like a lot of schoolboys ‘tinkering’ with the clocks.” (United States, Congressional Record, 1917)

Nevertheless, the tide of support for the bill continued to grow. When the House was advised that considerably more coal was consumed in the cooler months of March and October than over summer, it revised the bill from five to seven months of daylight time to start on the last Sunday in March and finish on the last Sunday in October. The amended bill was passed by 253 votes to 40 on 15 March 1918 and approved by the Senate the following day, becoming law on 19 March. The result was the Standard Time Act of 1918, or the Calder Act, which included daylight saving time, the long title being “An Act to save daylight and to provide standard time for the United States”.

Except for Alaska, clocks throughout the country were put forward an hour for the first time at 2 a.m. on Sunday 31 March 1918. Thus 2 a.m. became 3 a.m. Many folk stayed up until 2 a.m. to make the change although the National Daylight Saving Association had suggested that households adjust their clocks before they went to bed the previous evening and for workplaces to alter theirs at the end of the last shift of the previous week. It was Easter and priests were worried that people would oversleep and be late for service due to the time change. The association advised churches to “ring their bells more lustily than usual”.

Some people went out and celebrated the changeover. Thousands turned out at Madison Square Park in New York to watch a parade featuring the New York Police Department Band and members of the Boy Scouts. As the crowd listened to patriotic speeches, Marcus Marks appeared from the Aldine Club where he had been celebrating with other Daylight Saving Association members. He made his way to the Metropolitan Tower and moved the minute hand of the clock ahead an hour to resounding cheers. Similarly, William Calder attended a gathering in nearby Brooklyn where the Borough Hall clock was wound forward.

(end of extract)

DST book cover

The Great Daylight Saving Time Controversy can be obtained at the following:


Australia: https://www.amazon.com.au/Great-Daylight-Saving-Time-Controversy-ebook/dp/B06Y2R5KQ7

Canada: https://www.amazon.ca/Great-Daylight-Saving-Time-Controversy-ebook/dp/B06Y2R5KQ7

NZ: as per US

UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Great-Daylight-Saving-Time-Controversy-ebook/dp/B06Y2R5KQ7

US: https://www.amazon.com/Great-Daylight-Saving-Time-Controversy-ebook/dp/B06Y2R5KQ7

Kobo Books

Australia: https://www.kobo.com/au/en/ebook/the-great-daylight-saving-time-controversy

Canada: https://www.kobo.com/ca/en/ebook/the-great-daylight-saving-time-controversy

NZ: https://www.kobo.com/nz/en/ebook/the-great-daylight-saving-time-controversy

UK: https://www.kobo.com/gb/en/ebook/the-great-daylight-saving-time-controversy

US: https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/the-great-daylight-saving-time-controversy

Apple ITunes

Australia: https://itunes.apple.com/au/book/the-great-daylight-saving-time-controversy/id1224081657?mt=11

Canada: https://itunes.apple.com/ca/book/the-great-daylight-saving-time-controversy/id1224081657?mt=11

NZ: https://itunes.apple.com/nz/book/the-great-daylight-saving-time-controversy/id1224081657?mt=11

UK: https://itunes.apple.com/gb/book/the-great-daylight-saving-time-controversy/id1224081657?mt=11

US: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/the-great-daylight-saving-time-controversy/id1224081657?mt=11


Australia: https://books.google.com.au/books?id=kpmbDgAAQBAJ&dq and click on Angus & Robertson

Or see other extracts and an index to the book here: