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The History of Daylight Saving Time

written by: Donna Clarke • edited by: SForsyth • updated: 8/2/2012

What are the origins of Daylight Saving Time or Summer Time and why do we need it? Learn about some of the changes that have been made over the years and why there is some controversy.

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    "Spring ahead, fall back"

    We've all heard the ages old expression. We've all learned it, from grade school. Where did this idea get started and why is it useful to us?

    The expression "spring ahead, fall back," though good to know, is moot if we do not know the basics of who, what, where, when, how and why. That is where this article comes in, offering easy to understand and detailed explanations that are informative and user friendly.

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    The "Who"

    In "An Economical Project" in 1784, Benjamin Franklin, (1706-1790), wrote of the concept of daylight saving. He came upon the idea while traveling through France in his capacity as a Delegate to America.

    William Willett, (1857-1915), a staunch advocate of this plan, spent considerable time and resources on lobbying the House of Commons to adopt laws making Summer Time law. His proposal was to move clocks ahead 20 minutes each Sunday in April and back the same time increment each of the four Sundays in September.

    In 1907 he published "Waste of Daylight" in which he explained in detail his reasoning behind the proposal. Intrigued by what he read, Sir Robert Pearce, (1840-1922), introduced it into Parliament several times. Unfortunately, the idea, along with the bill, was met each time with much opposition and Willett died not seeing his vision reached.

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    The "What"

    Daylight Saving Time was first established to create a more efficient use of daylight. Understanding that one loses daylight as one moves farther from the equator, the concept of Daylight Saving Time recognizes that those living in the tropics, or countries near the equator suffer no such loss, and as such, allows for clocks to remain the same for those living in that region.

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    The "When"

    Different regions of the world follow different guidelines with respect to Daylight Saving Time. The United States begins Daylight Saving Time at 2:00 a.m. on the second Sunday in March, and ends Daylight Saving Time on the last Sunday of November, also at 2:00 a.m.

    The European Union follows a slightly different time line. Summer Time begins the last Sunday in March and ends the last Sunday in October. Clocks are adjusted at 1:00 a.m. Universal Time, also known as Greenwich Time.

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    The "How"

    The changing of clocks is actually as simple as moving the hour hand forward or backward one hour on the correct day. Yet, the impact has been substantial. Studies show fewer accidents occur during Daylight Saving Time, crime rates are lower and a habit of checking smoke detector batteries when clocks are adjusted is also believed to have helped individuals protect their homes against the possible devastation of fire. Moreover, it is believed the adherence to Daylight Saving Time has helped the United States conserve hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil each year!

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    The "Where"

    Confusion still exists with respect to the practice of Daylight Saving Time as regions of the world follow different guidelines. In Europe, all the clocks are adjusted at the same time, regardless of time zone. However, in America different time zones change at different times and Arizona doesn't observe Daylight Saving Time at all!

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    Thw "Why"

    The term Daylight Saving Time has been misunderstood by many, almost from its inception. Even the term itself has been incorrectly used. The correct term is Daylight Saving Time, without the 's', not Daylight Savings Time. This is partly due to the term itself. In reality, time is not being saved, merely shifted in an attempt to enable the workforce to be more efficient during daylight hours. Ironically Willett's pamphlet entitled "Waste of Daylight" was a more accurate moniker for the understanding of switching clocks. Regardless, whether we use the term "Summer Time' or "Daylight Saving Time," or change to the term Shifting Time, the adjustment of the clock to allow for more daylight hours affords us more efficient use of those hours, as well as greater safety, and conservation, which in the end helps us, our community, and our earth.