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Daylight Savings Time: A History (and some reminders...)

Belinda Baxter

By day, Bella masquerades as an administrative assistant working in real estate with just about 7 years of experience in the industry...

By day, Bella masquerades as an administrative assistant working in real estate with just about 7 years of experience in the industry...

Mar 10 7 minutes read

“Spring forward, fall backward.”

…Annnnnddd cue the groans.

Twice a year, a bunch of folks in the US find themselves setting their clocks either forwards or backwards by an hour - the few remaining analog clocks that don't automatically reset, that is. People across the nation will mourn or rejoice the hour difference in their sleep schedule, and our internal clocks will be off for at least a week following the change.

But what exactly is this seasonal time change, and why do we do it? Many people believe it was to support the agricultural and farming industries, which relied on maximizing daylight hours in order to complete their work each day. The real reason behind Daylight Savings Time might surprise you.

As spring flows into summer, we enjoy longer, lighter evenings; in the fall and winter, the light wanes, and the days seem much shorter. The purpose behind Daylight Saving Time is to shift the clock so we can salvage some of that light for the winter evenings by shifting an hour of daylight from the morning to the evening. There has also been some evidence that the switch saves energy. Studies done by the US Department of Transportation show that Americans reduce their usage of electricity a bit during DST. Since there’s more light in the afternoon and evenings, people will generally be outside more or doing more outside of their homes, and so they’ll be using less electricity and appliances in their homes. It also decreases traffic accidents and reduces crime rates.

Benjamin Franklin was actually the first person to suggest the change in his essay, “An Economical Project For Diminishing the Cost of Light”, which was published in a Parisian journal in April of 1784. This was during Franklin’s tenure as an American delegate in France. His suggestion wasn’t really taken seriously by many until the publication of a pamphlet called “The Waste of Daylight” by English builder William Willet in 1907. Although Willet was able to get a bill introduced to Parliament through his connections, it was never ratified.

The first countries to enact Daylight Saving Time were Germany and Austria in 1916 in order to conserve fuel during World War I. A host of other European countries soon followed suit, including Belgium, Denmark, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Sweden, and of course, the United Kingdom. Australia and parts of Canada weren’t far behind.

The United States didn’t adopt the policy until 1918 with the bill “An Act to preserve daylight and provide standard time for the United States.” This bill also established the standard time zones. It was wildly unpopular and hotly contested. So much so, in fact, that it was repealed in 1919. It wasn’t reinstated until World War II, when President Franklin Roosevelt instituted “War Time”, a year long Daylight Saving Time that lasted until the war ended in 1945. After that, it was left to states and municipalities to decide if they wanted to keep the time change or discard it again. They could also choose when it started and ended. Understandably, this caused a lot of confusion, especially for industries with scheduling, like transportation (think planes, trains, and automobiles) and broadcasting (radio, and then later on, television).

It wasn’t until 1966 that Congress once again intervened and established the Uniform Time Act of 1966, which established a regular system of Daylight Saving Time throughout the US and its territories within standard time zones. It stated that clocks must be set ahead by one hour at 2 AM on the last Sunday of April and then back again by an hour at 2 AM on the last Saturday in October. There was a clause in which a state or a territory could opt out if the entire state opted to do so; and so, Arizona and Hawaii, plus the territories of American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands all remain on standard time.

DST underwent another major change in 2005, when the Energy Policy Act was signed into law. This act changed the start date of DST to the second Sunday of March and the end date to the second Sunday of November. These are the dates we now observe here in the US. Observance around the rest of the world can vary wildly from place to place.

Whether you’re for or against Daylight Savings Time, there are a few things for homeowners to remember when it comes time to, well, change time! Here’s our helpful list of reminders for this Sunday when time changes once again.

1. Adjust your analog clocks

This seems obvious, but in an age where our cell phones, tablets, and laptops automatically update, it’s easy to forget any clock that isn't connected to a motherboard. Whether it’s your wall clock, an appliance clock, or even the clock on the dashboard of your car, don’t forget to reset them so you don’t have a mild panic attack on Monday morning.

2. Test your smoke detectors

Now’s a good time to check all the smoke detectors in your home to make sure they’re in working order. Replace old batteries with fresh ones, and don’t forget carbon monoxide detectors if you have them.

3. Clean your vents

We live in Florida, and most of us run our AC units year round. Clean vents and filters will make your system run more efficiently, saving you money on your cooling bill! If you can’t clean your vents yourself, consider having your local AC specialists come out to service your system. Pro tip: a lot of these companies run specials in the spring.

4. Declutter

Get a leg up on your spring or fall cleaning by going through your home and decluttering. If it’s not sparking joy (or you’re simply not using it), maybe it’s time to donate or toss it.

5. Stock (or restock) your emergency kit

Hurricane season in Florida starts in June and doesn't end until November. This is an opportunity to assess what you have on hand, and what you might need to replace. Restock your first aid stash with fresh bandages, antibiotic ointment, and check your over-the-counter medications for expiration dates. Make sure you have a ready stash of flashlights, fresh batteries, candles, matches, and any other supplies you might need in case an emergency strikes.

Whether we're springing forward or falling back, we've always got time for you!

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