Who Invented Daylight Saving Time?

Dear child has many names and DST is no exception. Whether DST is still as ‘dear a child’ as it used to be when first introduced, is another question though.

DST is an abbreviation and stands for Daylight Saving Time or Daylight Savings Time or simply Daylight Time (United States).

Actually Daylight Saving Time is correct and Daylight Savings Time is a misspelling.

Some also call it Daylight Shifting.

In EU, including United Kingdom and others, DST is colloquially simply called Summer Time.

Throughout this article I will refer to Daylight Saving Time as ‘DST’.

DST Explained

So what is DST then? In short, DST is the practice of advancing clocks during summer months and then adjusting them backward in the autumn to standard time.

Typically the clock will be adjusted one hour forward at the start of spring and then backward an hour in the autumn.

In other words, when DST comes into effect, we ‘lose’ an hour and win that hour back when the clocks are set to standard time again.

When Do We Change the Clocks?

In most of USA, DST begins at 2:00 a.m. on the second Sunday in March and ends on the first Sunday in November.

Because USA is divided into several time zones, the shift happens at different times.

In EU, DST begins at 1:00 a.m. (Universal Time) on the last Sunday in March and ends at 1:00 a.m. (Universal Time) on the last Sunday in October.

In the EU, all time zones shift at the same time.

What’s the Idea Behind DST?

The fundamental idea of DST is to make better use of the daylight.

Obviously one nice advantage of DST is the opportunity to enjoy long summer evenings, but the primary reason for the introduction of DST was to minimize coal consumption during the First World War.

In fact most countries abandoned DST shortly after First World War ended and it was only when a new energy crisis broke loose as a consequence of Second World War that most European countries relived the idea and adopted to DST again.

In 1973 an oil embargo posed by members of the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries (OAPEC) led to fuel shortages and sky-high prices throughout most of the decade.

Since then, DST has been widely adopted in America and Europe, although the world has seen many enactments, adjustments and repeals.

Why Do Some Countries Have DST While Others Do Not?

Apart from national political descisions, there’s a more pragmatic reason for that.

Most countries located near the equator has not introduced DST because the length of the day and the night is almost the same, while at the North Pole the sun appears above horizon over a period of 187 consecutive days during the summertime, and below the horizon for 163 consecutive days during the wintertime.

Therefore, only the regions located in the mid area between equator and the poles can benefit from DST.

Who Invented DST?

It’s a bit unclear who was the first to conceive the idea of DST, but George Vernon Hudson (20 April 1867 – 5 April 1946), an entomologist and astronomer, is usually credited with proposing modern-day DST.

George Hudson was born in London on Easter Saturday, 1867. As a boy he loved to collect insects and he even had an article published in The Entomologist.

At the age of 14 Hudson moved with his father to Nelson, New Zealand, where he worked on a farm.

Later he began working at the post office in Wellington where he stayed for 45 years, and because of his shift work job there, he was able to continue studying and collecting insects in his leisure time.

Hudson’s interest in insects lead him to value the after hours daylight and in 1895, he presented a paper to the Wellington Philosophical Society, proposing a 2-hour daylight saving shift.

The idea was well received and Hudson followed up with a new paper in 1898.

New Zealand introduced DST in 1927, and in 1933, Hudson was awarded a special T. K. Sidey Medal.

William Willett

Another tireless advocate for DST was William Willett (10 August 1856 – 4 March 1915), who independently of George Hudson also got the idea of adapting to daylight hours in a more efficient way.

William Willett was born in Farnham, Surrey, UK and was a successful builder.

It is said that after riding his horse in Petts Wood near his home one early summer morning, he noticed how many blinds were still down, and that’s when he first considered the idea of daylight saving time.

In a pamphlet published in 1907 entitled “The Waste of Daylight”, Willett suggested that the clocks should be advanced by 20 minutes on four successive Sundays beginning in April and be turned back in September.

Although the suggestion reached the British parliament and several attempts was done to pass it into law, it was only after the outbreak of First World War the issue was considered interesting again, primarily because of the need to save coal.

The bill finally passed in Britain on 17 May 1916 and the clocks were advanced by an hour on the following Sunday, 21 May.

Unfortunately Willett didn’t live to see his idea realized as he passed away in 1915.

Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin Franklin (6 January 1705 – 17 April 1790) was an American polymath and one of the founding fathers of the United States.

Franklin was a scientist, inventor, politician and he was known for his great sense of humor.

He also authored and popularized the proverb “early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise”.

Many people mistakenly believe that Benjamin Franklin is the inventor of DST and the reason is a letter Franklin published in the Journal de Paris during his time as an envoy to France (1776 – 1785).

This letter suggested that Parisians economize on candles by rising earlier to use morning light, but was meant to be a humorous feature.

The letter from 1784 continued in satiric manner and proposed taxing window shutters, rationing candles, and waking the public by ringing church bells and firing cannons at sunrise!

In fact Franklin did not live in a time where DST would have been particularly useful, as 18th century Europe did not keep precise schedules.

Later railway transportation and network communication changed the need for standardization of time and thus became factors paving the way for DST.

Nothing New Under the Sun

The whole idea of adjusting the clocks to follow the season of the year is not new at all, but goes way back to the ancient world.

In ancient Rome sophisticated water clocks had different scales for different months of the year.

Thus, an hour at winter solstice lasted 44 minutes, but at the summer solstice it lasted 75 minutes.

The idea of keeping track of time using unequal-length civil hours was abandoned from 14th century onwards.

First Places to Adopt DST

Port Arthur, Ontario, was the first city in the world to enact DST on July 1, 1908.

This was followed by Orillia, Ontario in 1912.

The first states to adopt DST were those of the German Empire and its WWI ally Austria-Hungary. It happened April 30, 1916, only 3 weeks before the introduction took place in the UK, the reason being the same as in Britain; to save on coal consumption during wartime.

Many European countries followed shortly after, while Russia and a few other countries waited a year.

USA adopted DST in 1918.

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Claus is a laboratory technician, autodidact guitarist, songwriter, music publisher, co-founder of App Division ApS, dad of fraternal twin boys, Sci-Fi lover, incarnated Mike Oldfield fan, pro world peace and an incorrigible coffee addict.

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