Every year, most Americans move their clocks forward an hour in the Spring and then turn them back in the Fall – a man-made phenomenon called Daylight Savings Time. And yet it sometimes comes as a shock to those who were born and raised in areas that follow this practice that not everyone is on board. Daylight Savings Time is not an internationally accepted convention; in fact, it’s not even followed in all fifty states.
Let’s take a look at the history behind Daylight Savings Time – how it started, why it’s practiced, and whether it’s beneficial to those who use it.
What is Daylight Savings Time and how did it come about?
The history of Daylight Savings Time, although commonly misattributed to Benjamin Franklin, actually goes back much further. Before “civil time” – locally designated time set by civil authorities and governments – time was seasonal in nature. Ancient Romans used water clocks that deviated depending on the month, with an “hour” ranging anywhere from 44 to 75 minutes. Over the years, these unequal hours were replaced with a standardized timekeeping system, although exceptions still exist in certain cultures.
The misconception that Ben Franklin created Daylight Savings Time is exactly that – a misconception. In Franklin’s era, rigid time schedules were not kept and daily activities were simply based on the rising and setting of the sun, and the use of available natural light. In fact, it wasn’t until rail transport and long-distance communication became standard that timekeeping reached a level of significance closer to the modern era.
Leaping ahead (no pun intended), New Zealander George Hudson first proposed Daylight Savings Time in 1895 as a means to enjoy several hours of daylight following his shift labor, so that he could pursue his hobby of collecting insects. Later, an Englishman named William Willett published a proposal to advance clocks through the summer months in 1907; this proposal was taken before Parliament and ultimately rejected.
Why do we practice Daylight Savings Time?
During the first World War, Daylight Savings Time was implemented in many areas to conserve coal and other important resources during wartime. The United States first adopted Daylight Savings Time in 1918, following the lead of its European allies. That said, in large part Daylight Savings Time was abandoned following the war.
In the modern era, Daylight Savings Time has been most prominent since the energy crisis of the 1970s, which resulted from high demand and insufficient supply for petroleum throughout much of the industrialized world. Since then, it has been adopted, adjusted, and repealed throughout much of the world, with no set global standard for the practice.
Is Daylight Savings Time a beneficial practice?
There are many debates over the usefulness of Daylight Savings Time as a national and global practice. A 1975 study by the US Department of Transportation indicated that there might be a potential 1% savings in energy costs nationwide with the implementation of Daylight Savings Time in March and April; however, further review led to no evidence of significant savings. More recent studies, including one in California in 2007, revealed similar results. Some studies have even pointed to increased resource consumption due to higher fuel usage for heating and cooling.
Economically speaking, Daylight Savings Time has a tendency to help retail stores and sporting-related business. Conversely, it is estimated to have a negative impact on television viewership, movie attendance, and theaters in general. Most controversially is the impact on farming, the basis of which remains contested as some farmers advocate for and against the practice.
Perhaps one of the largest measurable benefits of Daylight Savings Time can be found in public safety. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety estimated a 1.2% reduction in traffic fatalities during Daylight Savings Time, and as high as a 5% reduction in traffic-related pedestrian fatalities. Some studies have also shown significant reductions in violent crime during Daylight Savings Time, by as much as 10-12%.