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Daylight Saving Time – What Is it and Why Do We Do It?

In a nutshell, Daylight Saving Time is a seasonal time change where clocks are set ahead of standard time during a portion of the calendar year, usually by one hour. And it’s not just the United States that participates in Daylight Saving Time as roughly 40% of the world’s countries use DST.

The term “Daylight Savings Time” is very commonly used, especially in Australia, Canada, and the United States, but the correct term is actually “Daylight Saving Time”. It’s likely the incorrect term “savings” entered the popular vocabulary because it’s so often used in everyday contexts, like “savings account.”

Move Forward or Move Backward?

At the beginning of the DST period in the spring, clocks are moved forward, usually by 1 hour. When DST ends in fall (autumn), clocks are turned back again. DST does not add daylight but it gives more usable hours of daylight. In that sense, DST “saves” daylight, especially during early spring. Standard time refers to time without DST.

A History of Daylight Saving Time

Even though Germany and Austria are recognized as the first countries to use DST in 1916, they weren’t actually the first to use it. On July 1, 1908, the residents of Port Arthur, Ontario, known today as Thunder Bay, were the first to turn their clocks forward by 1 hour, thus becoming the first to employ DST and doing it 8 years before the Germans and Austrians.

Germany Daylight Saving Law
German’s 1916 DST Law

Other Canadian locations soon followed suit when on April 23, 1914, Regina, Saskatchewan also implemented DST and the cities of Winnipeg and Brandon in the province of Manitoba followed suit two years later on April 24, 1916.

According to the April 3, 1916 edition of the Manitoba Free Press, the time change in Regina “proved so popular that bylaw now brings it into effect automatically”.

The idea didn’t really catch on globally until Germany introduced DST in 1916 when on April 30, 1916, the entire German Empire, along with its ally Austria, turned their clocks ahead by on hour.  This was 2 years into World War I and the rationale was the try and minimize the use of artificial lighting so the fuel could be used in the war.

The United Kingdom and France followed suit a few weeks later, as did many other Allied countries.  After the war however, most them reverted back to standard time and it wasn’t until the World War that Daylight Saving Time made its return to most of Europe.

Within a few weeks, the idea was followed by the United Kingdom, France, and many other countries. Most of them reverted to standard time after World War I, and it wasn’t until the next World War that DST made its return in most of Europe.

Benjamin Frankin, the Father of DST?

While many people credit our early American Founding Father, Benjamin Franklin with the initial idea for the modern Daylight Saving Time, in a letter to the editor of the Journal of Paris, Franklin simply suggested Parisians could save on candle usage by getting people out of bed earlier in the morning. In truth, he really meant DST as a joke.

No, we have New Zealand scientist George Vernon Hudson and British builder William Willett to thank for the modern day practice of DST.

In 1895, Hudson presented a paper to the Wellington Philosophical Society, proposing a 2-hour shift forward in October and a 2-hour shift back in March. There was interest in the idea, but it was never followed through.

In 1905, independently from Hudson, British builder William Willett suggested setting the clocks ahead 20 minutes on each of the 4 Sundays in April, and switching them back by the same amount on each of the 4 Sundays in September, a total of 8 time changes per year as opposed to the 2 we experience today.

In February 1908, Willett’s Daylight Saving plan caught the attention of a member of the British Parliament who introduced a bill to the House of Commons. The first Daylight Saving Bill was drafted in 1909, presented to Parliament several times and examined by a select committee, but the idea was opposed by many, especially farmers, so the bill was never made into a law.

Sadly, Willett died in 1915, one year before the United Kingdom started using Daylight Saving Time in May 1916 and it is unknown if he found out his idea had become a reality 7 years prior to his death in a small town in Ontario, Canada.

An Ancient Idea

While our modern version of Daylight Saving Time has only been used for about 100 years, several ancient civilizations are known to have engaged in similar practices thousands of years ago. For example, the Roman water clocks used different scales for different months of the year to adjust the daily schedules to the solar time.

Daylight Saving Today

Today, Daylight Saving Time is used in over 70 countries around the globe and it affects over 1 billion people annually, even though the beginning and end dates vary by country.

Here in the United States, Daylight Saving Time officially begins sometime in the early Spring and ends in the late Fall.

Why Use DST at All?

While less than 40% of the countries in the world use DST, some countries use it to make better use of the natural daylight in the evenings. The difference in light is most noticeable in the areas at a certain distance from Earth’s equator.

Some studies show that DST could lead to fewer road accidents and injuries by supplying more daylight during the hours more people use the roads. Other studies claim that people’s health might suffer due to DST changes.

DST is also used to reduce the amount of energy needed for artificial lighting during the evening hours. However, many studies disagree about DST’s energy savings, and while some studies show a positive outcome, others do not.

Not Always 1 Hour

While most clocks around the globe are almost always set 1 hour back or ahead, that’s not always the case.  On Lord Howe Island, Australia, clocks are only adjusted by 30 minutes.

Throughout history, there have been several variations, like half adjustments (30 minutes) or double adjustment (2 hours). Adjustments of 20 and 40 minutes have also been used.




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