At 2 a.m. on Sunday, March 9, it will once again be time to reset our clocks an hour ahead for daylight saving time (DST). Under the Energy Policy Act of 2005, Pub. L. 109-58, daylight saving time was extended by several weeks. Previously, DST ran from the first Sunday in April to the last Sunday in October, but now it runs from the second Sunday in March to the first Sunday in November. I remember when DST began at the end of April and ended on the last Sunday of October. I also vividly remember the institution of DST during the 1974 oil crisis when I had to walk to school in the dark. I thought as we prepare for our annual “spring forward” it would be interesting to trace the evolution of daylight saving time.
The idea of daylight saving time was first proposed by George Vernon Hudson of New Zealand. He worked in the post office but his passion was entomology. Most of his work documenting New Zealand’s insects was done after his regular job and in 1895 he presented a paper to the Wellington Philosophical Society for a seasonal time change which would provide additional hours of daylight in the evenings. New Zealand first instituted daylight saving time in 1927. But during World War I, many of the European countries and the United States had already passed laws adjusting the time. The idea was that adjusting the time would help save energy costs. The United States Congress passed the first law on daylight saving time on March 19, 1918. The law was entitled “An Act to Save daylight and to provide standard time for the United States, ” 40 Stat. 450. The law established standard time for the United States by dividing the continental United States into five zones by longitundinal degrees. These zones were designated as Standard Eastern Time, Central, Mountain, Pacific and finally Standard Alaska time. The Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) was charged with defining the limits of each zone, “having regard for convenience of commerce.” Section three of this law established daylight saving time:
That at two o’clock antemeridian of the last Sunday in March of each year the standard time of each zone shall be advanced one hour, and at two o’clock antemeridian of the last Sunday in October in each year the standard time of each zone shall, by the retarding of one hour, be returned to the mean astronomical time of the degree of longitude governing said zone, so that between the last Sunday in March at two o’clock antemeridian and the last Sunday in October at two o’clock antemeridian in each year the standard time in each zone shall be one hour in advance of the mean astronomical time of the degree of longitude governing each zone, respectively.
However, this law was in effect for only about a year and a half – it was repealed on August 20, 1919 in “An Act For the repeal of the daylight saving law,” 41 Stat. 281. The law was scheduled to take effective after the last Sunday in October 1919 so that daylight saving ran its full course in 1919. The law was repealed over President Wilson’s veto. However, the sections of the 1918 law which had established standard time zones for the country remained in effect and in 1921 Congress readjusted the western boundary of the standard central time zone, shifting parts of Texas and Oklahoma into this zone – 41 Stat. 1446.
It was not until the advent of the next World War, that Congress took up the issue of daylight saving time again. On January 20, 1942 Congress passed a law “To promote the national security and defense by establishing daylight saving time, ” 56 Stat. 9. This law was scheduled to take effect twenty days after its passage while section two of the law directed that this law would cease to be in effect within six months “after the termination of the present war,” or earlier if designated by a concurrent resolution. I checked the Congressional Record Index for 1945 to locate the concurrent resolution which repealed this law. I found that 13 concurrent resolutions, one House joint resolutions and 10 bills had been introduced to repeal the 1942 law. In addition, at least three states had sent memorials to Congress urging the repeal of daylight saving time. In September 1945, instead of passing a concurrent resolution, Congress passed H.R. 3974 which became the law “To provide for the termination of daylight saving time, ” 59 Stat. 537.
For the next 21 years there was no Federal legislation mandating daylight saving time. Then in 1966, Congress passed Pub. L. 89-387, Uniform Time Act. Section 1 of this law noted that it was the policy of the United States to promote the observance of standardized time with the zones established by the 1918 law. And once again, the ICC was directed to foster and promote the “widespread and uniform adoption” of these standard time zones. Section 3 of this law established daylight saving time to run from the last Sunday in April through the last Sunday in October. Section 3 of this law also allows an entire state to exempt itself from observing daylight saving time. This law has been modified a number of times since 1966. In 1986 daylight saving time was extended by changing the beginning date to the first Sunday in April instead of the last. As noted above, the time period for daylight saving time was again extended in 2005. This law is codified in Title 15, section 260a of the United States Code.
Although Congress established a regular schedule for the observance of daylight saving time in 1966, seven years later, Congress passed Pub. L. 93-182, the Emergency Daylight Saving Time Energy Conservation Act of 1973. According to section 2 of this law, in response to severe energy shortages, Congress decided to enact year round daylight saving time as a way to conserve energy. This law took effect on the fourth Sunday after the date of enactment of this law. The law was enacted on Saturday, December 15th so daylight saving time would have begun on the first Sunday in 1974, January 6th. This law was set to expire on the last Sunday in April – the day on which daylight saving time begun under the 1966 law. So, in effect, daylight saving time was continuous from January 6, 1974 through October 26, 1975.
As a final note, since the idea for daylight saving time originated in New Zealand, my colleague Kelly provided me with some information about the history of New Zealand laws on this topic as well as public opinion. In 1927 when the first daylight saving law was passed in New Zealand daylight saving was not popular with dairy farmers. In 1927, farmers objected, claiming that the time change led to signficantly less milk production by the cows. Feeling on this subject did not appear to have changed much when Daylight Saving Time was reintroduced in New Zealand in 1974. This time the dairy farmers objected because they would have to get up in the dark year round. Despite this perception, a 2008 survey found that 82% of dairy farmers approved of daylight saving time, only a little less than the general population, but apparently the cows were not surveyed!