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Saving Energy: The Fall Back Position

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Today’s post is from science reference librarian  Margaret Clifton.  She is also the author of Stars in his Eyes and Sun Spots this Summer.  She has created the  LC Science Tracer Bullet on Time , which will be helpful to those who are interested in horology (art and science of measuring time).

Poster showing Uncle Sam turning a clock to Daylight Saving Time as a clock-headed figure throws his hat in the air. The clock face of the figure reads “One hour of extra daylight.” (1918)

Daylight Saving Time (DST) in this country ends this year (2011) on Sunday, November 6, at 2:00 a.m (with a few exceptions for the places where it never started). We turn our clocks back one hour returning to Standard Time.

I had never thought much about Daylight Saving Time, other than trying to remember to change my clock, until I met Ian Bartky. Ian was an independent scholar who came frequently to the Science Reference alcove when I first started as a reference specialist here nine years ago.  We quickly developed a wonderful rapport, due mainly to his great good humor and diligent research habits. He also reminded me a lot of my then recently deceased father, someone who also had a wry sense of humor and who loved research.

Before he became an independent scholar Ian had a long career in government, culminating at the National Bureau of Standards (now the National Institute of Standards and Technology). After retiring he pursued his interest in horology (the art and science of time measurement) and studied the history of timekeeping in America. He  published several articles, and then in 2000 his first book, Selling the True Time: Nineteenth Century Timekeeping in America – the first comprehensive, scholarly history of the subject. In 2007 he published his second book, One Time Fits All: The Campaigns for Global Uniformity, in which he discussed Daylight Saving Time in detail.

Benjamin Franklin – lithograph of a painting that was exhibited at the Salon, 1779

Benjamin Franklin is often credited with inventing DST, and though the idea did occur to him, it was more as a source of satire and amusement, writing as he did in an anonymous letter (published under the Economie heading)  to the Journal de Paris on April 26, 1784:  “Your readers, who with me have never seen any sign of sunshine before noon, and seldom regard the astronomical part of the almanac, will be as much astonished as I was, when they hear of his [the sun] rising so early; and especially when I assure them, that he gives light as soon as he rises. I am convinced of this.* ”  For a more in-depth analysis of Franklin’s letter see: Aldridge, A. O.  Franklin’s Essay on Daylight Saving. In American Literature, v. 28, Mar. 1956: 23-39.

The man credited with popularizing the idea of saving daylight was an entomologist in New Zealand named George Vernon Hudson, whose shift-work job led him to appreciate extra hours of daylight after work, his time to collect bugs. In 1895 he presented On Seasonal Time- Adjustment in Countries South of Lat. 30 ° to the Wellington Philosophical Society proposing a two-hour daylight-saving shift.  Though initially received with condescension by members of the Society, considerable public interest was expressed and so, in 1898, he followed up with a second paper, in which he states

In favour of the scheme, special attention is directed to the saving of expense in the lessened employment of artificial light; the greatly increased health and enjoyment to the numerous classes, who are obliged to work indoors all day, and Who, under existing arrangements, get a minimum of fresh air and sunshine; and the probable resultant increase in the health, morality, and happiness of the community generally. ( Hudson, G.V., On Seasonal Time, 1898)

Front cover from William Willett’s The Waste of Daylight, London, 1907. (LC Call No. HN49.D3 W5)

In 1907 the Englishman William Willett published a pamphlet The Waste of Daylight.  In it he proposed that the clocks should be advanced by 80 minutes in four incremental steps during April and reversed the same way during September. He wrote “Now, if some of the hours of wasted sunlight in Spring, Summer, and Autumn could be withdrawn from the beginning, and added to the end of the day, how many advantages would be gained by all … ”

In 1917 when the U.S. was preparing for war, a bill was introduced recommending both standard time zones and daylight saving.  Enacted into law by both houses of Congress An Act To Save Daylight and to Provide Standard Time, for the United States (Pub. Law No. 65-106, 40 Stat. 450) established standard time zones and set summer DST to begin on March 31, 1918.  DST was observed for seven months in 1918 and 1919 and then after the war ended, the law proved so unpopular (mostly because people rose earlier and went to bed earlier than people do today) that it was repealed in 1919 with a Congressional override of President Wilson’s veto. DST became a local option, and was continued in a few states, such as Massachusetts and Rhode Island, and in some cities, such as New York, Philadelphia, and Chicago.

During World War II the federal government again required the states to observe the time change.  Between the wars and after World War II, states and communities chose whether or not to observe DST. In 1966, Congress passed the Uniform Time Act (Pub. Law No. 89-387, 80 Stat. 107), which standardized the length of Daylight Saving Time from April to October.  Then in the 1970’s, during the oil crisis, the government considered extending Daylight Saving Time to save energy.  Ian Bartky was spending a fellowship year on Capitol Hill and a House commerce committee asked him to determine whether daylight saving time should be extended into winter. He concluded that the proposal would not save much energy.  In 1981 Congress was again conducting hearings to extend DST and Ian testified before the Committee on Energy and Commerce’s Subcommittee on Energy Conservation and Power.  Throughout the 1980’s and 1990’s Congress continued to introduce bills and conduct hearings on extending DST.  In 2005, the Energy Policy Act (Pub. Law No. 109-58) amended the Uniform Time Act of 1966 and finally extended standard daylight time from March to November, which became effective in 2007.

Ian Bartky passed away on December 18, 2007 and every year when it’s time to spring forward or fall back we miss him in the Adams building.

* Translation of French to English found in The Ingenious Dr. Franklin. Selected Scientific Letters. Edited by Nathan G. Goodman. Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1931: p. 18.

Comments (5)

  1. Your article is extremely informative and very interesting to read. However, it is inaccurate on one point: it fails to mention that in 1986 (when I was a staffer on the Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Energy Conservation and Power), Congress amended the Uniform Time Act to extend DST by having it begin on the first Sunday in April. Never in my life have I answered more phone calls about a single subject than when our Subcommittee (chaired by Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA)) moved that legislation and saw it enacted into law!! Thanks again for the wonderful article!!

    • @ Sara – Thank you for pointing this out to our readers. This topic has seen a lot of legislation action since its inception in 1918 and we failed to mention each bill, amendment or congressional action for brevity. For those of you interested in the 1986 amendment to the Uniform Time Act – see Pub. Law No. 99-359, 100 Stat. 764 (1986)- An Act: To authorize appropriations for activities under the Federal Fire Prevention and Control Act of 1974.

  2. the idea is very good in all sense. but its main constrain begins with the people who follow it. therefore all the people and perticularly the children should be tought how to adjust their timing according to the DST. if it is posible it would be a great idea.

  3. Thanks so much for helping us remember Ian Bartky. He was a wonderful library user at the Naval Observatory library, too.

  4. Margaret Clifton is known have a good writing in her subject….this one is really gives us a new inspiration for our live…

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