Changing Times: Daylight Saving

by Elaine Schwartz    •    Mar 10, 2013    •    685 Views

Changing to daylight saving, have you ever thought about who should control time?

During the 1880s, the railroads said that they should. With railroad companies observing 52 different times and even more variation among cities and towns, a group of railroad managers proclaimed that the US shall have 4 standard time zones.

As a result, on Sunday, November 18, 1883, clocks, watches and schedules across the US adjusted as they implemented standard time. How much? It all depended on their time zone. On the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Line, all conductors  were told to move their watches back 28 minutes.

Not everyone, though, was pleased.

Many people believed affluent industrialists had no right to change what nature created. Time was a local issue. If the sun was directly overhead, it was noon. Disagreeing, others wanted the consistency that would help economic activity.

In 1918, passing legislation that confirmed the 4 time zones, Congress added a controversial section. Called daylight saving, it would move the clocks forward every May 31. Farmers objected saying their cows could not be milked and their work could not begin in dark wet fields. On the other hand, baseball team owners rejoiced. With games starting at 4:30 instead of 3:30, attendance would soar. Similarly, the founder of Filene’s department store chain looked forward to more women shopping after work because they could walk home before dark.

Summarized in Keeping Watch: A History of American Time, the debate was between tradition and modernity. Farmers said no while industry supported the idea. Some condescendingly said it would make early risers out of later sleepers. Others felt it encouraged more leisure and consumerism instead of the Protestant work ethic.

Only a year later, in 1919, Congress voted to end daylight saving and did not reinstate it until WW II.

I guess that daylight savings, in more ways than one, was about changing times.

Our bottom line: Control over time relates to economic growth.

Sources and Resources: A fascinating and very readable, Keeping Watch: A History of American Time was the source of all of my facts. However, for a much briefer look at daylight saving, you might enjoy this recent NY Times article.


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