Daylight Saving Time is the custom of advancing clocks by one hour in the summertime months so that daylight extends further into the evening hours. Ben Franklin is generally thought to be the first to advance the idea of changing one’s schedule to make better use of daylight hours while saving on candles or oil lamps. So why does much of the northern hemisphere still observe Daylight Saving Time, and why have some places (like Arizona) abandoned the practice?
A Brief History of Daylight Saving Time
As mentioned above, Ben Franklin somewhat satirically proposed the idea back in 1784. While serving as the American envoy to France, he jokingly suggested that Parisians rise an hour earlier to make better use of the morning sunlight, adding that church bells should ring at sunrise to enforce such an idea. However at this point in western history, there was no notion of a tightly-controlled schedule governed by a clock. So while his idea sounds similar to daylight saving time, he definitely did not advocate changing the actual clock time itself.
It wasn’t until 1895 that someone discussed the modern notion of daylight saving time as we know it. New Zealander George Hudson proposed a two hour time shift in order to maximize the number of daylight waking hours. The idea did not gain much traction until prominent English sportsman William Willett proposed a similar idea independently, frustrated with having to end his golf sessions early when the sun set. He publicly proposed that in the summer months, the clock should move forward an hour. The proposal was introduced on the floor of Parliament by Member Robert Pearce, who had read Willett’s proposal himself. While a committee was formed to investigate the issue, nothing really came to fruition at the time.
The idea circulated around Europe and slowly gained popularity. In 1916, the German Empire was the first nation to adopt daylight saving time in order to conserve coal during World War I. Many other European countries, including Britain, followed suit and eventually the United States adopted it in 1918. However, many countries (including the US) repealed the fuel-saving time change after the war ended. President Woodrow Wilson vetoed the repeal twice (he was reportedly an avid golfer) but the repeal was ultimately enacted.
DST and the United States
In the United Stated, daylight saving time was still used in New York City in order to shorten the time difference between London. A few other large cities, including Chicago and Minneapolis, followed suit. In the subsequent decades, a few states enacted daylight saving time on their own. However, all of these different cities and states constantly changing their time ultimately forced the federal government to address the issue, as different transportation companies were having difficulty maintaining steady schedules. The federal legislature passed the Uniform Time Act of 1966 that mandated the adoption of daylight saving time across the country. However, the act stipulated that states were allowed to exempt themselves if they voted to do so (as long as the entire state followed it). In 1968, the Arizona state legislature voted to do just that.
Why did Arizona vote to exclude themselves from following daylight saving time? It came down to an issue of timing and climate. Under daylight saving time the sun would set at nearly 9 PM in the summers, meaning that their 115 degree heat would last well into the evening. People wanted to be able to enjoy their cooler evenings rather than deal with the scorching heat well into the night. In 1968, Arizona exempted itself from the time change. Only the Navajo reservations in the state observe daylight saving time.
Many other states have considered abandoning daylight saving for the sake of consistency and that fact that conserving an hour’s worth of electricity is no longer a serious concern. For the time being, Arizona and Hawaii (who never adopted daylight saving time), stand alone as the two states that do not change their clocks.