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The United States resumes daylight saving time on Sunday 4 November. Here’s another excerpt from my book on the history of daylight saving time around the world, The Great Daylight Saving Time Controversy, available at Amazon, Kobo, Apple and Google. This excerpt looks at the lead-up to national daylight saving time in the United States during World War II …

With the war escalating in Europe, the United States became increasingly concerned for its friends across the Atlantic and for its own defence. By 1940, it was sending war materials and money to the Allies, which was stepped up after France fell in spring. American volunteers were helping out in aircraft squadrons despite it being illegal, and the country was sending billions of dollars in food, oil and equipment under the Lend-Lease agreement after the Germans invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941.

Various people and organisations were calling for national daylight saving to redirect energy into the country’s defence efforts by early 1941, including business groups such as the Merchants’ Association of New York, interior secretary Harold Ickes, and Robert Garland, often regarded as the “father of daylight saving” in the United States and who had recently retired after 28 years as a Pittsburgh councillor. Ickes felt that substantial fuel savings could be had from daylight saving but also called for priorities and restrictions, believing that making aluminium was more important than night baseball. Power shortages were also evident in drought areas that relied on hydroelectricity. Industrialists pushed for continuous daylight saving, while defence chiefs wanted two hours of the measure. Bills were introduced for federal daylight time.

President Franklin Roosevelt asked Congress on 15 July to draft a bill to give him broad power to implement daylight saving, including on a national or regional basis, just in the summer or continuously, and for one or two hours. He wrote to the governors of south-eastern states where power shortages were particularly acute asking them to initiate daylight saving. A week later, the governors of Alabama, Tennessee, Mississippi and South Carolina issued proclamations, while Georgia, Florida and Louisiana refused, and North Carolina and Virginia at first took no action but later agreed to the measure. As governors didn’t have authority to order a change in time, the proclamations only applied to state offices and not to businesses and citizens, who would have to act on a voluntary basis perhaps encouraged to varying degrees by their governor and other politicians. One person who was less than enthusiastic was South Carolina representative and chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, Hampton Fulmer, who said that “the farmers wouldn’t even set their clocks ahead … It might be all right in big cities but in the little old country villages and farms, it would be nonsense. They wouldn’t pay any attention to it.”[1]

Overall support for daylight saving was strong though, as evidenced by a Gallup poll in June 1941 (see following table [see book]). Respondents were asked: “To save electricity and to increase daylight working hours, it has been suggested that the entire country be put on daylight saving time until the end of September. Do you favor or oppose this suggestion?” Now that the country’s security was at stake, many people changed their minds about daylight saving. Results showed that all parts of the country were happy to have the measure on a national basis, including the South region [which had been opposed to it in a poll in April 1940] where approval was at 64 per cent, while only 16 per cent were opposed and 20 per cent were undecided. Nationwide, two-thirds of people would be happy with daylight saving and just one-fifth against the idea.

Continuous daylight saving was less popular. As part of the same survey, people were asked: “Would you favor or oppose keeping the country on daylight saving time throughout the coming year?” Just 38 per cent favoured this proposition, 41 per cent opposed it and 21 per cent were undecided. Only New England and Middle Atlantic showed majority support (see table [see book]).

Despite strong support for the measure by the public, the plan for national daylight saving was shelved on 5 December 1941 due to lack of interest by Congress. Two days later, the Japanese launched a surprise attack on the US naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii and America declared war on Japan the next day. The United States immediately stepped up its assistance to the Allies, which led to Germany declaring war on the US on 11 December to which America reciprocated on the same day. Talks on daylight saving resumed by mid month, including the option of all year fast time for the duration of the war and beyond.

Another Gallup poll in December showed an increase in support for continuous daylight saving although the surveys aren’t strictly comparable over time due to different wording in questions and a new set of circumstances with America now at war. This time, respondents were asked: “As long as the war lasts, would you favor or oppose daylight saving time in your community for the entire year?” The poll found 57 per cent of people approved of the plan, 30 per cent didn’t and 13 per cent were undecided (see following table [see book]). In each region, considerably more residents backed the policy than disliked it. The Far West now had the second highest proportion in favour, probably due to the threat across the Pacific. Support for the proposal was higher in larger cities than smaller ones. Resistance continued from farmers, with just 36 per cent supporting it. A North Dakota farmer commented: “You can’t change a cow’s milk habits to fit the clock, or evaporate the morning dew an hour earlier.”

In January 1942, Congress debated the bill to give the president the power to order daylight saving of up to two hours, regionally or nationally, and all year or just in summer. The House didn’t want to give him this much flexibility and set down a few specifics, including just an hour of daylight saving across the country on a continuous basis. Support for advanced time year round was strong among representatives as peak demand for electricity in the evening was higher in winter than summer and keeping the clocks ahead all year would conserve a considerable amount of extra fuel. The amendments were made and the bill was passed by both houses. Daylight saving would start 20 days after the president signed the bill and extend to six months after the end of the war or some earlier date approved by Congress.

Meanwhile, the Idaho Chamber of Commerce wanted the Interstate Commerce Commission to move the southern part of the state to Pacific time as this would put it in its true zone rather than in Mountain time. Standard time in capital city Boise was 45 minutes ahead of local time. With year round daylight saving added on, sunrise would be as late as about 9:20 a.m. in winter. Other areas would also be disadvantaged by the new time, such as parts of Ohio and Michigan which had been transferred from Central to Eastern time in 1936 and would effectively have two hours of daylight saving. However, no changes were made to standard time zones.

Roosevelt agreed to the amendments to the bill and signed it on 20 January. It became “An Act to promote the national security and defense by establishing daylight saving time”. The measure began on 9 February for all federal government and interstate commerce activities, and the government was confident the rest of the country would follow. A week before daylight saving was due to start, the government labelled it “War Time” and the Eastern time zone, for example, would be on Eastern War Time.

[1] “Daylight saving assured despite farm opposition”, Dunkirk Evening Observer, Dunkirk, New York, United States, 16 July 1941, p. 1, Newspapers.com (subscription only), at https://www.newspapers.com/image/56261209 

DST book cover