Daylight Saving Time 101
You’re going to hear it all day. “Don’t forget to set your clocks back.”
Daylight Saving Time ends early Sunday morning, which means we all get an extra hour of sleep Saturday night.
But how did this annual messing with the clocks get started and why? There are a lot of myths about its origins.
Benjamin Franklin is often credited with first proposing the idea of moving our clocks to give us more sunlight in the evening during the summer months.
It was an off-handed and somewhat satirical comment in an essay he wrote in Paris in 1784.
The idea didn’t really go anywhere for about 100 years until an entomologist in New Zealand raised the idea again. He wanted more time after his regular job to research insects.
It didn’t get much traction then either, but about 20 years later, a British man petitioned Parliament for the change. Again, it was to get more light after work during the warm summer months.
John Lowe works for the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the agency that sets the Atomic Clock that governs time in the U.S.
“Farmers never cared,” Lowe said of the time change. “It was more for the Industrial Revolution. People were now working more standardized hours. The concept was, let’s have some more hours in the evening of daylight so that we can enjoy our time on earth here.”
It wasn’t until World War I that the idea took hold. Germany needed to save fuel for its war effort, so it changed the clocks so people would need less oil for candles in the evening. England and the U.S. followed suit.
It was then scrapped after the war. In 1966, the U.S. Congress created Daylight Saving Time, though it’s up to each state or territory to observe it or not, and that’s still the case.
You might think Lowe and his clock watchers at Standards and Technology are in charge of setting the time, but they aren’t.
“We don’t actually set the time,” he said. “Congress actually does that, and it’s the Department of Transportation that organizes it and coordinates it.”
The DOT is in charge of time in the U.S. Why? That’s where the railroads enter into the history of all this.
“When they standardized time, it was done for the railroad system,” Lowe said.
And here’s something you probably didn’t know about that: Amtrak will actually stop its trains that are running on time Sunday morning at 2 a.m. They’ll sit on the tracks for an hour so they won’t mess with their schedules.