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A Brief History of Daylight Saving Time

Daylight Saving Time impacts everyone who has to live by a schedule, from students, to farmers, to facility managers. Every year, we lose one hour of sleep in the spring, only to gain it back come autumn. How did the whole process of springing ahead and falling behind begin, and does it benefit us?

The History of Daylight Saving Time

Benjamin Franklin is sometimes credited as the "inventor" of Daylight Saving Time, after he penned a satirical letter to the editor of the Journal of Paris in 1784. In his letter, "An Economical Project for Diminishing the Cost of Light," he jokingly suggested making people get out of bed earlier in order to save on candles. In 1905, an Englishman named William Willett campaigned for the adoption of what he called "summer time," or moving clocks forard by 80 minutes during the months of April through October. Sadly, he died in 1915 without ever seeing his idea put to use. For the real creators of Daylight Saving Time as we know it, look to Canada and Germany.

Daylight Saving Time, or DST, got its start in Canada in 1908. People living in Port Arthur, Ontario, turned their clocks ahead by an hour on July 1st, 1908. Gradually, other areas of Canada began to follow suit. By 1916, the practice of DST was established in bylaw. Still, despite DST's success in Canada, it didn't really catch on until Germany decided to adopt the practice. Two years into World War I, the German Empire employed DST in order to lengthen the workday by an hour and thereby reduce the use of indoor lighting and save fuel. Other countries embroiled in WWI followed suit, though most of them dropped the use of DST after the war.

When World War II began, the practice was re-adopted and stopped at the conclusion of the war. In the US, some areas continued to use DST even after the practice was officially halted, resulting in a chaotic patchwork of areas with different times. In 1966, DST in the US was finally given some consistency with the Uniform Time Act, which both standardized DST and gave states the option of remaining on standard time year-round. Today, Arizona (with the exception of the Dine’é reservation), Hawaii, and overseas US territories do not observe Daylight Saving Time.

The Modern Impact of DST

Though Germany originally instituted Daylight Saving Time as a means of conserving fuel otherwise spent on indoor lighting, it's debatable whether following DST actually has any tangible energy benefits. As many facility managers can attest, changing the clocks doesn't really result in lower energy consumption. A study by the US Department of Transportation found that the total energy savings due to DST only amounted to about one percent. Unfortunately, the increased use of electric heating and air conditioning more than makes up for that savings. There is also evidence to suggest that gasoline consumption increases during DST, as people take advantage of that extra daylight hour for leisure activities.

DST can affect more than just energy use, too. Facility managers may find themselves dealing with clocks that need to be manually adjusted, and some automated systems that need extra attention navigating the time change. There's some evidence to suggest that DST impacts the body's circadian rhythm, triggering underlying health conditions and resulting in more accidents by sleep-deprived people. Workplace accidents and employee absenteeism often increase briefly right after the time changes, until employees are able to adjust to the new schedule.

Contrary to popular belief, Daylight Saving Time has nothing to do with farming. (In fact, many farmers were strongly against it!) If you live and work in an area that uses Daylight Saving Time, you've probably noticed some of the impact it has on you and your workplace. Though it has its roots in conserving energy for the war effort, it is debatable if DST still provides a benefit to either businesses or residential areas.

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