Daylight Saving Time Explained

My father, a south Texas rancher, never liked daylight saving time, those months when we all turn our clocks ahead for one hour. “It’s a prime example of how the lobbyists run the country.”

He had a point, although said lobbyists have tried, time and time again, to tie daylight saving time to some other “worthy” goal or character trait, such as patriotism.

That’s right, patriotism. During World War I, the United States senate heard from lobbyists (deemed the National Daylight Saving Convention) who insisted that by converting to daylight saving time, Americans would be supporting the war effort by conserving fuel. Europe had made the transition the prior year (1916), and as a member of the Allied forces, so the lobbyists proclaimed, the U.S. should follow suit and “mobilize an extra hour of daylight and help win the war.”

And we did. In 1917, the daylight saving time bill was passed, but it had a relatively short run; it was repealed in 1919.

Then, during 1973, the United States was engaged in a different kind of war: the energy crisis. As a result, President Richard Nixon pushed the clocks ahead one hour for fifteen months straight. In so doing, the theory went, incandescent lighting (which accounted for residential lighting in the evening) would be conserved.

But by how much remains debatable. After all, we’re not literally creating an extra hour of daylight when we push our clocks forward one hour. We’re merely shifting our way of keeping time to allow for extra daylight in the evening; which means we are allowing an extra hour of darkness during the morning hours to compensate.

So, the energy expended for lighting that extra hour of darkness must be less than that saved during the evening for any real benefit to be realized. And this is where my father and others like him felt manipulated by interest groups; those that would benefit from that extra hour of evening daylight, like 7-11 Convenience Stores, (which Fortune Magazine revealed would make an additional $30 million by converting to DST during the summer months), and other leisure time industries, such as shopping malls and baseball game franchises. And they weren’t particularly moved by the pleas of those who bemoaned the fact that their golf game had to be cut shorter during standard time than it would during DST.

But, for now, and for probably many years to come, the majority of the United States, along with Europe, will turn their clocks forward for the spring and summer months. While medieval revelers recognized the summer and winter solstices by having elaborate festivals, those of us in the post-modern era acknowledge their existence by manipulating the Rolex. The US does this collectively the second Sunday in March, then turns back to standard time the first Sunday in November (Europe makes the change the last weekend in March and October), so that for those months, we can have that extra hour of daylight. It seems that for all of our technological advances, we still are very dependent upon something as primal as the sun.