Advancing the clock an hour during the summer months sounded like a good idea to Benjamin Franklin in the late eighteenth century. When the only light after dark came from candles, enjoying an extra hour after the evening meal appealed to Franklin.
But the best “idea man” of his time didn’t pursue it further. In the 1880’s, Otto von Bismarck, the first chancellor of the newly united German state, experimented with the idea on a limited basis, but two new agreements had to take place before it could really be considered.
The first was driven in both Europe and America by the railroads’ need to have definite operating schedules, in particular for passenger traffic.
With every city, town and hamlet establishing their own “local time,” railroad scheduling was impossible.
So, in 1883, the rail lines established their own time zones on both continents.
Four zones are defined for the continental U.S.; they are still in use today. Worldwide, reference meridian was need to keep everything “in sync” for cities as remote as Sydney and Berlin.
So, in that same year 1883, a meeting was held in London to pick the reference meridian.
Off course, every country wanted it to pass through their capital. Hence, the Paris meridian, the Moscow meridian, etc., were all proposed.
The British got the Americans to back the London meridian so it was adopted, but to make it less objectionable, it was designated the Greenwich meridian as Greenwich is a small city just north of the UK capital.
Thus, the common GMT-Greenwich Mean Time-is used throughout the world today when recording important events to note the exact time when the important event took place.
Therefore, with a known GMT, one can easily calculate the correct local time.
As an example, Los Angeles, on Pacific Standard Time in the U.S., is eight hours behind GMT (but in the summer on Daylight Savings Time, Los Angeles is only seven hours behind GMT—confusing isn’t it?)
During WWI, Germany finally implemented Bismarck’s idea to help in food and material production—or so it was hoped.
The other waring nations soon followed suite. So did
the U.S. when we (foolishly) entered the conflict. When directing a year round advancement of all U.S. clocks one hour (designated “war time,”) Congress also belatedly formally approved the time zones from 1883 in 1918. But after WWI, the DST idea pretty much disappeared in the western world.
The clock situation was repeated for WWII. The Germans, under Hitler, promptly decreed year-round DST be used throughout the Reich.
All the others joined in as did the U.S. in early 1942. The British went even further by implementing BDST-Britis Double Summer Time-by adding two hours to the clocks in the UK.
“War Time” lasted in the U.S. until the end of the conflict in 1945.
So for the twenty year after the war, DST was a long way from being universal in this country.
Some states in the northeast and midwest, directed it statewide, but not always for the same time period of the year.
Others, in the south and southwest, specifically outlawed it.
No state west of the Rockies implemented DST with the singular exception of California, who changed to DST in 1949, perhaps driven by the entertainment industry’s desire to remain only three hours behind their colleagues and competitors in New York.
In most of the others states, DST was a local option.
This led to towns being on DST while the surrounding county was not. A traveller had to watch for local clocks to determine the time, even if he or she had a watch or car clock. Sometimes the statecapital was on DST while much of the state was not. Eventually, the federal government, being based in D.C., observed DST throughout the entire country, regardless of the local time observed.
This strange phenomenon affected my wife, Peg, and I when I was serving at an Army post in Virginia in 1961. The post was on DST while the local town, where we ewer forced to live as I was a very junior officer, observed standard time as did most of Virginia outside of the Washington area.
Finally, probably driven by the TV networks and other commercial interests, the U.S. Congress passed the Uniform Time Act of 1966. This act directed that all states observe DST for the period from the last Sunday in April until the last Sunday in October, unless the particular state legislature acted to retain standard time.
For state with two time zones, each section could be treated independently. Although not really co-ordinated with the seasons, as late March to late September would have made more sense—but it was Congress—this brought an end to the confusion.
Currently, only Arizona and Hawaii do not observe DST. Outside North America, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and the territory of the Northern Marianna Islands also keep standard time.
Of course, Congress had to kept at it for some unknown reason. In 1986, twenty years after the initial mandate, it added another month to the DST period by specifying the clocks would be moved forward on the first, rather than the last Sunday in April.. That made DST the rule for 7/12ths of the year. And after another twenty years, another month of DST was added in 2006 when the start was moved to the second Sunday in March and the end moved to the first Sunday in November.
At resent, DST is the rule for fully 2/3rds of the year.
What does DST accomplish other than give more summer light for residents of states with bitter winters where they have been very nearly marooned during much of the fall, winter and early spring? Not much per every study by the Dept. of Commerce. For people in the hottest weather states (like us here in the California desert), DST is exactly the wrong thing to do. In the evening any reasonable person wants the sun to
promptly go down, not stay up to adding to the heat of the day. Sports, a drink, or simply sitting outside on your patio is much more pleasant in the cool of the evening.
Lately, the California state assembly has considered eliminating the twice yearly time change.
But members cannot seem to agree whether to stay on standard time throughout the year which does not require federal approval by Congress or by observing DST all the time, a choice which must gain federal consent.
For me, the choice is obvious—cancel DST. If you agree, call your state representatives.