Daylight Saving Time has a sporadic, chaotic history

Love it or hate it, it’s that time — Daylight Saving Time — again.

Love it or hate it, it’s that time — Daylight Saving Time — again. DST has been around, in a sporadic even chaotic fashion, for almost a century and you can thank or blame the Americans. Despite Ben Franklin’s having half seriously suggested it as far back as two centuries ago, they didn’t invent it, they embraced it.

And when Uncle Sam catches cold we in Canada sneeze.

In 1895 New Zealand entomologist George Hudson’s proposed “two-hour daylight” shift aroused wide interest for a time. Prominent English contractor, outdoorsman and avid golfer William Willett, dismayed that so many Londoners slept through much of a summer’s day, suggested moving the clocks ahead during summer months. MP Robert Pearce echoed this proposal by introducing the first Daylight Saving Bill to the House of Commons in 1908 but it failed, as did others.

It remained for Germany and Austria to implement DST in 1916. With the First World War raging and vast quantities of vital coal being consumed in the production of electric power, by advancing the clocks an hour they extended evening daylight by an hour. You can argue that that nature delivers the same amount of daylight in the summer with or without DST, but tinkering with the clocks did and does help to serve the purpose of energy conservation. Ten other European countries including Britain quickly followed. The first Canadian provinces to do so, incidentally, were Manitoba and Nova Scotia.

It took the Americans two years to see the light with the formal passing of “An Act to preserve daylight and provide standard time for the United States,” to begin two weeks after enactment, on March 19, 1918. Ironically, the law lasted only seven months, proving to be so unpopular that it was repealed in 1919. Not even President Wilson’s veto could save it. Why? Because most people got up earlier than we do today and they didn’t appreciate having to fumble around in the dark any longer than necessary; conversely, they also went to bed earlier.

Individual states were allowed to go their own ways, however, and Massachusetts and Rhode Island carried on with DST. As did, incredibly, several major cities including New York and Chicago. President Franklin Roosevelt put his foot down by imposing what was called War Time in February 1942, just two months after the U.S.’s entry in the war. With the return of peacetime, it was back to states and cities doing their own thing and creating near chaos, particularly in the broadcasting and transportation industries. It was so bad that along a 35-mile-long stretch of highway between Moundsville, West Virginia and Steubenville, Ohio, bus drivers and passengers had to adjust their watches seven times!

Various interests who were affected, for better and for worse, voiced their concerns accordingly. Farmers didn’t support DST for the obvious reason that livestock couldn’t adjust to arbitrary change, and, for equally obvious reasons, there was a particularly bitter fight between the owners of indoor and outdoor theatres! It was transportation companies that led the charge towards synchronizing watches nation-wide. By 1966 Congress enacted the Uniform Time Act. With President Lyndon Johnson’s signature, Daylight Saving Time officially took effect — but only in those states so inclined — from the last Sunday of April, 1966 to the last Sunday of October.

The White House re-entered the fray during the energy crisis of the 1970s; with the passing of President Nixon’s Emergency Daylight Saving Act, on Jan. 3, 1974, clocks were set ahead an hour as of Jan. 4, 1974 and reverted to Standard Time on Oct. 27. Again, not all states enlisted. In 1986 DST was revised to begin at 2 a.m. on the first Sunday of April through the last Sunday of October.

Not until the Energy Act of 2005 was DST extended although “Congress retained the right to revert to the 1986 law should the change prove unpopular” or if energy savings proved to not be considered sufficient to justify the exercise.

All of which explains why we in B.C. are lip-synching to the American tune. They are our biggest trade partner. As Royal Roads University professor of strategic and advanced international studies Terry Power explained to the Times Colonist, “We can do nothing about it whether we want to or not. If…you’re out of synch…there’s a potential 25 per cent impact on your gross national product”.

For reasons of their own, Saskatchewan doesn’t follow suit, nor does a section of northeastern B.C., the East Kootenay region, three communities in northwestern Ontario, the eastern tip of Quebec or Southhampton Island in Nunavut. Go figure.

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