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San Clemente Journal

Spring Forward/Fall Back What’s up with that?

Nov 14, 2019 10:54AM ● By Don Kindred
by Anne Batty

There are many urban myths about the origin of daylight savings time. 

Some say it was implemented for the farmers. Many opine it was established so school children and workers wouldn’t have to travel to class and/or work in the dark. Others site its function as necessary for conserving energy, cutting down on crime, promoting better health, encouraging consumer spending … and the list goes on and on.

 The Truth of the Matter
History records the idea for DST first emerging in 1985 when British-born New Zealand entomologist George Hudson proposed a time shift that would allow for two additional hours of sunlight in the summer months so he would have more time for studying insects. 
Soon after, though few heeded his advice, it was U.S. Statesman Benjamin Franklin’s observation that people were wasting productive daylight hours by sleeping through the bright early mornings of summer and burning precious candles later at night. Therefore he sought to convince his peers that early to bed, early to rise not only made a man healthy, wealthy and wise, it put daylight hours to better use. 

Then in 1905 British builder, William Willett, pitched the idea of saving daylight to Parliament for construction purposes, but in spite of the fact that both British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and prominent Scottish Author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle backed the idea, Parliament rejected it.
In the USA all those ideas went over like a lead balloon, and in the end it would be the industrious Germans that liked the idea, and would be the first country to adopt the controversial practice.

The United States Finally Weighs In …
The USA didn’t jump on board until the end of World War I in 1918 … “in order to preserve daylight and energy and provide a standard time for the United States.” It was a mandate that began on March 31 and lasted for seven months until a large number of Americans banded together to pressure Congress to repeal the measure in 1919. The repeal though unsuccessful remained on the books, so President Franklin Delano Roosevelt enacted year-round daylight saving time into law during World War II, dubbing it a necessity and calling it “War Time;” but that too eventually ended on September 30, 1945.

After the national repeal of DST in 1919 many individual states and cities chose to continue the practice of adjusting their clocks twice a year, but at completely different days and times. Time Magazine characterized this practice in 1963 as “a chaos of the clocks.” And the History Channel reported that “passengers on a 35-mile bus ride from Steubenville Ohio to Moundsville, West Virginia, would pass through seven different time changes.”

Despite this confusion and ridicule the enactment of DST kept rearing its head, finally becoming law in 1966 when Congress passed the Uniform Time Act which established standard time zones across the U.S. The most prominent lobbyist group for the observance was the Chamber of Commerce.

Michael Downing, noted author and National Commentator of the times had this to say about the situation, “The Chamber of Commerce understood that if you gave workers more daylight at the end of the day, after work they could stop and shop on their way home. And along with the idea of creating a retail boom, big cities like New York and London were ecstatic to be receiving an extra working hour for their stock trading." 

Who’s In, Who’s out?
Due to States Rights, each territory and state was allowed the choice to participate in DST or not. Most of the 50 chose to keep the observance, even though many have argued against its usefulness, even advocating for a year-round daylight time without having to set clocks forward and back annually. 

Presently Hawaii and Arizona (with the exception of the Navajo Nation) and the territories of American Samoa, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands have opted not to participate. Many are of the opinion that this is due to the warmer weather in these areas. 

This year, 2019, dozens of states are proposing changes to daylight saving and a scattering of states including Oklahoma, Texas, and Kansas have bills in progress to opt out entirely. This option would require the participating state to stay on standard time year-round, but that is often met by opposition as well because it would mean the sun would rise and set an hour earlier than citizens are used to for most of the year.

Time for a Change?
Daylight saving continues to be the subject of much controversy, and the complaints against it are many. Some dislike changing the clocks twice a year. Many bemoan the darkness during the evening commute. Others state its danger to pedestrians, interruption of the sleep cycle, diminishing of productivity, danger to health, and disruption of circadian rhythms as their reason to disdain the practice.

Despite the grumbling, at 2am, Sunday, November 3, 2019 the U.S will “fall back” as usual, but as ‘60s songwriter Dylan might write … “the winds of change they are a-blowin’.” And just maybe, if a large number of Americans were to band together as they did in 1919, putting pressure on Congress, those winds might just make some welcomed changes sooner than we think.

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