In its Flashback Friday series, FreightWaves publishes articles that look back at various aspects of the transportation industry’s history. If there are topics that you think would be of interest, please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org
For those of us in 2019 who are used to clocks, watches, cellphones and other devices that can be set to time that is no more than one-millionth of a second “off,” this article may be hard to believe or understand. Be warned…
This Sunday, March 10, at 2:00 a.m., Daylight Saving Time (DST) comes again to the United States (or at least 48 of the 50 states – Arizona and Hawaii don’t participate…). The main purpose of Daylight Saving Time (termed “Summer Time” in many areas of the world) is to make better use of daylight. Clocks are changed to move an hour of daylight from the morning to the evening.
Why is FreightWaves reporting on Daylight Saving Time? Because a key mode of transportation – railroads – helped spur adoption of “Standard” time, and DST is an outgrowth of standard time. Daylight Saving Time also impacts all modes of transport, and may have a negative impact on truckers in particular (see Dean Croke’s article on Daylight Saving Time this weekend for more information on this topic).
More than 70 countries use some form of DST, impacting over one billion people (which means over six billion people are not impacted by DST…). Daylight Saving Time begins and ends on various dates from from one country to another.
Most of the United States adopts DST on the second Sunday in March and reverts to standard time on the first Sunday in November. Each time zone in the country switches at a different time. In the European Union (EU), Summer Time begins at 1:00 a.m. Universal Time (Greenwich Mean Time) on the last Sunday in March and ends on the last Sunday in October. In the EU, all time zones change at the same moment.
While Daylight Saving Time is an easy concept to understand, it has been anything but easy to implement.
DST as mandated by law has been used for just over 100 years. But ancient civilizations are known to have engaged in similar practices going back thousands of years. As an example, the water clocks of the Roman Empire utilized different scales for different months of the year to adjust their daily schedules to solar time.
Was Benjamin Franklin the father of DST?
Many sources erroneously cite Benjamin Franklin as the first to suggest seasonal time change – in 1784. As the primary representative of the new American nation in Paris, Franklin wrote an essay to the editor of the Journal of Paris, entitled “An Economical Project for Diminishing the Cost of Light.” He (jokingly) suggested that Parisians could diminish candle usage by getting out of bed earlier in the morning.
The idea of “saving daylight” (shifting time, in reality) was first advocated seriously by George Vernon Hudson, a scientist in New Zealand. Hudson presented a paper to the Wellington Philosophical Society in 1895; he proposed a two-hour shift forward in October and a corresponding two-hour shift back in March. (The reversal of months is due to the fact that New Zealand is in the Southern Hemisphere and its seasons are reversed from those of the Northern Hemisphere.) Incidentally, Hudson’s motivation was so that he could spend two hours more daily after work hunting for insects… While there was some interest in Hudson’s idea, there was no follow-through.
London builder William Willett proposed advancing clocks 20 minutes on each of four Sundays in April, and moving them back by the same amount on four Sundays in September in his 1907 "Waste of Daylight" pamphlet.
Willett spent his own time and money advocating for DST. Enthusiasts for Willett’s idea included Arthur Conan Doyle (author of the Sherlock Holmes stories) and Winston Churchill. In 1909, Robert Pearce (later Sir Robert) introduced a bill in the House of Commons to make DST compulsory. The idea was opposed and ridiculed, and Willett died in 1915, before his country adopted DST.
DST takes hold in World War I
During World War I, Germany adopted Willett’s idea and introduced DST in 1916. Clocks in Germany and its ally, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, were moved forward by one hour on April 30, 1916. The rationale for DST was to minimize the use of artificial lighting to save fuel for the war effort.
Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire were the first countries to adopt DST at the national level; however, the residents of Port Arthur (now Thunder Bay), Ontario in Canada began using DST on July 1, 1908. Other Canadian cities and towns followed Port Arthur’s lead. On April 23, 1914, the city of Regina in Saskatchewan Province adopted DST. Winnipeg and Brandon in Manitoba switched to DST on April 24, 1916. On April 3, 1916, the Manitoba Free Press reported that DST “proved so popular…” in Regina.
After Germany began DST, other countries also adopted the concept in 1916 – Belgium, Denmark, France, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Sweden, Tasmania and Turkey. DST was also adopted by the Canadian provinces of Manitoba and Nova Scotia.
While Willett did not live to see his idea implemented, Great Britain’s Parliament passed an act on May 17, 1916, and DST went into effect there on Sunday, May 21, 1916. Unfortunately, despite being the law of the land, there was a great deal of confusion and opposition to DST.
In 1917, Australia and another Canadian province (Newfoundland) began “saving daylight.” Most of the nations that adopted DST in World War I went back to “standard time” after the war ended, and DST was not used again in most of Europe until World War II.
The United States did not formally adopt Daylight Saving Time until March 19, 1918. The Act passed by Congress established standardized time zones and set DST to begin on March 31, 1918. DST was observed for seven months in 1918 and again in 1919.
However, DST was unpopular (in large part because Americans got up earlier and went to bed earlier than they do today). Legislation repealing DST was passed in 1919 (including a Congressional override of President Wilson's veto). This led to Daylight Saving Time becoming a state or local option. DST continued in a few states, including Massachusetts and Rhode Island, and also in some cities, such as Chicago, New York and Philadelphia.
DST and World War II
With the advent of World War II, the energy-saving benefits of DST (again, known as “Summer Time” in Europe) were considered very important and went into effect year-round. For the duration of the war, clocks and timepieces in Great Britain were set ahead one hour of GMT throughout the winter and two hours ahead of GMT during the summer – Double Summer Time.
In the United States, President Franklin D. Roosevelt instituted year-round Daylight Saving Time (which was called “War Time”). War Time began on February 9, 1942 and lasted until September 30, 1945. During World War II the U.S. time zones were called the Eastern War Time Zone, Central War Time Zone, Mountain War Time Zone and Pacific War Time Zone. After the surrender of Japan in mid-August 1945, the time zones were relabeled “Peace Time” zones.
The chaos of non-uniform DST
From the end of “War Time/Peace Time” on October 1, 1945 until 1966, there was no federal law regulating Daylight Saving Time. Therefore, states and localities chose whether or not to observe DST, as well as deciding when it would begin and end. This patchwork quilt caused a great deal of confusion. Industries impacted included airlines, broadcasting, interstate buses and railroads, among others. The schedules of these industries and companies within them had to constantly be adjusted.
As an example, in Iowa, 23 different pairs of DST start and end dates were used. For five weeks annually, Boston, New York and Philadelphia observed a different time than Baltimore, Chicago, Cleveland and Washington, D.C. On an Ohio to West Virginia bus route, the time of day changed seven times over a 35-mile span. Minneapolis and Saint Paul are considered a single metropolitan area. But in 1965, Saint Paul began DST earlier than Minneapolis. So citizens on two sides of the same street were an hour apart…
In 1918, responsibility for enforcing laws and regulations governing time was given to the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC), the federal agency with jurisdiction over transportation. As dictatorial as the ICC could be when it came to the railroad or trucking industries, it was helpless on the issue of time standardization (for nearly 50 years), and the chaos continued. While many business interests were supportive of standardization, the farm lobby and others were opposed to uniformity (and to DST). State and local governments had differing positions as well.
Efforts to standardize Daylight Saving Time were pushed by a transportation coalition called the Committee for Time Uniformity. The organization paid to survey the entire country on the issue, and unsurprisingly, found that the situation was quite confusing. The committee sought to rally support for uniformity through a media relations campaign; a key argument for standardization was telling the story of that 35-mile bus route between Moundsville, West Virginia and Steubenville, Ohio and the seven changes of time along the route.
The Uniform Time Act
By 1966, some 100 million Americans (one of two Americans at the time) were observing some form of Daylight Saving Time based on their local laws and customs. Congress finally took action to end the conflicting systems, and to establish a single system for the nation. The Uniform Time Act of 1966 was signed into law on April 12, 1966, by President Lyndon Johnson. The new law created a national Daylight Saving Time that began on the last Sunday of April and ended on the last Sunday of October. It covered the entire country and its possessions. However, any state that wanted to exempt itself from Daylight Saving Time (Arizona and Hawaii, for example) could do so by enacting state legislation. By the way, also in 1966, responsibility for governing time issues was moved from the hapless ICC to the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT).
Six years later, in 1972, Congress acted again, revising the Uniform Time Act so that if a state was in two or more time zones, it could exempt that part of the state that was in one time zone while the part of the state in a different time zone would observe DST. The law was amended again in 1986 when Congress moved the start of DST from the last Sunday in April to the first Sunday in April.
Saving energy as well as daylight
During the 1973 OPEC oil embargo, Congress ordered year-round DST, which lasted from January 1974 to April 1975. Congress wanted the effects of seasonal time change on energy consumption studied. However, there was a public backlash to year-round DST (and only modest energy savings). Congress subsequently amended the plan, bringing standard time back during the winter months.
However, the USDOT found that observing DST in March and April saved the equivalent in energy of 10,000 barrels of oil each day – a total of 600,000 barrels in those months.
When DST was extended again in 1986, adding the entire month of April to DST was estimated to save the U.S. about 300,000 barrels of oil each year.
These findings are disputed by some, and there is no doubt that the amount of oil saved (if any) is a small fraction of the amount used overall. However, USDOT studies in 1975 showed that DST trims electricity consumption in the U.S. by a small but significant amount because less electricity is used for lighting and appliances (because of the time of day that people use them). In New Zealand, power companies there found that electricity demand decreased 3.5 percent at the start of DST. During the first week of DST in New Zealand, peak energy consumption at night fell about five percent.
The results of a 2008 study by the U.S. Department of Energy were that the extra four weeks of DST decreased electricity consumption in the U.S. by about 0.5 percent per day. Not much as a percentage, but that 0.5 percent is a savings of 1.3 billion kilowatt-hours – or the equivalent of the electricity used by more than 100,000 households annually!
Similar to Benjamin Franklin’s call for the people of Paris to get out of bed earlier, the USDOT study of DST-related energy savings found that energy consumption is directly related to when people get up and when they go to bed. And when people are outdoors later (because the sun sets later under DST), less energy is used. Therefore, DST actually does decrease the amount of energy consumed.
Additionally, a public health benefit of DST is cited by some, because it decreases traffic accidents. Several U.S. and British studies determined that the shift to DST decreases net traffic accidents and fatalities by nearly one percent. While there is an increase in accidents during the early morning dark periods, accidents in the lighter period of early evening offset them.
But research also shows that fatalities among pedestrians increase considerably around 6:00 p.m. in the weeks just after DST begins. There are fewer pedestrian fatalities in the morning dark hours, however (but there are also fewer pedestrians in the dark hours of morning than there are in the dark hours of early evening during DST).
DST may also have an economic benefit. When it is still light in the early evening, people are more inclined to shop than if it is dark when they get off from work. However, others argue that the net amount of shopping is no greater, since the shopping that is done in daylight hours of evening would likely be done at other times.
The Energy Policy Act of 2005 extended DST in the U.S. beginning in 2007. So now DST begins at 2:00 a.m. on the second Sunday of March and ends at 2:00 a.m. on the first Sunday of November.
So don’t forget to “spring forward” (set your clocks ahead an hour) before you go to bed on Saturday night. And just be glad you weren’t on that bus between West Virginia and Ohio in the mid-1960s!
Flashback Friday Extra (extra): The story of Standard Time
As described above, Daylight Saving Time has been controversial for over a century. Standard time has been around longer, and was also controversial when it was introduced…
The railroads instigate Standard Time
Great Britain was the first country to set time throughout a region to one standard (or “mean”) time. The nation’s railroads (known as railways) were behind the adoption of a standardized time because the inconsistencies of local time wreaked havoc on their timetables. Dr. William Hyde Wollaston (1766-1828) is credited with the idea of a uniform, standard time. Wollaston’s idea was promoted and popularized by Abraham Follett Osler (1808-1903). “London Time” (as Standard time was first known), was first adopted by the Great Western Railway in November 1840. Most other railways (though not all – no surprise there!) adopted London Time as well. An English industry standards body, the Railway Clearing House, recommended Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) as Standard Time on September 22, 1847. GMT was to be used at all railway stations as soon as the General Post Office permitted it. This took place on December 1, 1847, and by 1855, the majority of public clocks in Great Britain were keeping time using GMT as the standard. On August 2, 1880, the Definition of Time Act took effect; all clocks in Great Britain were mandated to adopt GMT.
Standard Time in the U.S. and Canada
Standard time (with time zones) was adopted by railroads in the U.S. and Canada on November 18, 1883, a little over three years after Great Britain mandated GMT. Prior to the action of the railroads, time of day was set locally; most towns and cities used some form of local solar time, so the answer to “what time is it?” was a local matter, and might vary widely – even in a small geographic area. Not surprisingly, the new standard time system was not universally liked or adopted…
Nearly 75 years before the advent of standard time in the U.S., the first man in the country to advocate for standardized time was amateur astronomer William Lambert. In 1809 he recommended to Congress the adoption of time meridians (time zones). Lambert’s idea was spurned, however, as was the 1870 recommendation of Charles Dowd, who hailed from Saratoga Springs, New York. Not to be discouraged, in 1872 Dowd revised his proposal. This was the proposal adopted by U.S. and Canadian railroads 11 years later.
Lambert’s idea did not die, however. Because their speed allowed trains to cover long distances faster than any other form of transport known previously, trains made the old system of time – when towns, cities and regions set time according to local astronomical conditions – obsolete. Sandford Fleming, a Canadian civil and railway engineer, led the effort that established the present time meridians used in the U.S. and Canada. Of course this meant that Fleming also had a key role in the current worldwide system of time-keeping.
Fleming (later Sir Sandford Fleming) drove the final spike that signified the completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway. Fleming also was an advocate for a standard or mean time and hourly variations from that time according to established time zones. The 1884 International Prime Meridian Conference in Washington, D.C. occurred in part because of his advocacy. The international standard time system and time zones – still in use today – was adopted at that conference 135 years ago.
The following information should not surprise any readers. Despite the fact that railways across the United States and Canada adopted standard time at noon on November 18, 1883, it was years (and in some cases decades) before standard time was used universally in the two countries.
For example, Detroit kept “local time” until 1900, when the City Council determined that clocks should be turned back 28 minutes to coincide with Central Standard Time. Nonetheless, 50 percent of those in the city did not heed the council’s decision. Therefore, the decree was wiped off the books and the city went back to “sun time.” It took five more years before Detroit adopted Central Standard Time.
Standard time use increased “over time,” because of increased use by transportation and communications companies. But it was not until the U.S. Congress enacted the Standard Time Act that time zones (based on the railroads’ time zones) were established by U.S. law. And this did not occur until March 19, 1918 – 35 years after the railroads adopted standard time and time zones! As explained above, the responsibility for enforcing laws and regulations governing time was given to the Interstate Commerce Commission, the federal agency with jurisdiction over transportation. This responsibility was transferred to the U.S. Department of Transportation in 1966.
By the way, time zone boundaries have changed over the years since the 1880s (generally moving westward). By law, the primary standard for determining whether to change a time zone boundary is the “convenience of commerce.”
No matter what time it is where you are, have a good day!