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Good Question: Why do we observe Daylight Saving Time?

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EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was originally published on Nov. 4, 2017. The times have been updated for republication.

This past week, all the staff at received a company-wide email reminding us that Daylight Saving Time ends this Sunday at 2 a.m.

We share our building with Riverbend Communications, a group of 5 radio stations. In the email, the on-air staff for the radio stations were instructed to remind their audience (you) about the time change over the next few days.

The person who sent the email also seemed to be making a concerted effort to ensure all the automation systems that control on-air content, and clocks, were ready for the time change.

“Would it be possible to update the clocks on Sunday so that Monday morning half of us are not saying the incorrect time?,” the person asked in the email.

Several thoughts ran through my mind as I read the email.

My first thought was one of appreciation to this person for taking the time to remind all of us.

My second thought was how much fuss and grief could be avoided if we simply did away with Daylight Saving Time.

My third thought was Why do we observe Daylight Saving Time, anyway? That is the focus of this week’s Good Question.


Initially, I took note of the phrase “Daylight Saving Time.” I had always called it “Daylight Savings Time.” Which reference is correct?

I found the answer indirectly.

My research began with the discovery of David Prerau. Prerau is the world’s foremost authority on Daylight Saving Time. In 2005, he wrote a book entitled “Seize the Daylight: The Curious and Contentious Story of Daylight Saving Time.” His list of appearances on prominent news and cable outlets is too numerous to mention.

David Prerau | Courtesy photo

I reasoned since “Daylight Saving Time” is referenced in the name of his book that it was probably the correct way to say it.

I reached out to him for comment. He responded, so I asked him point-blank which reference is correct.

“No one will shoot you if you use the wrong one, but the correct way to say it is ‘Daylight Saving,'” he told me. “The reason is because it’s a time for saving daylight.”

Why then, I thought, do we, at this time of year, say Daylight Saving Time is ending? Since the number of daylight hours between November and March is decreasing, aren’t we actually “saving daylight” during those months?

I wish I had thought to ask David this question, but I digress.

The concept of Daylight Saving Time, according to Prerau, was first introduced by Benjamin Franklin.

Benjamin Franklin | stock photo

“He (Franklin) had the idea if everyone could wake up earlier closer to sunrise, they would be able to use the light of the sun rather than use artificial energy to light their house,” Prerau told me.

Prerau went on to say William Willett became the first proponent for having a federally regulated time change. In 1907, Willett lived in a suburb of London, England. Prerau says that every morning after sunrise, Willett would go on a horse back ride in the country. Willett observed that no one else was awake at that time.

“He (Willett) had the idea that if you could move your clock forward, you could get people to wake up at what they think is the same time, but it’s really an hour closer to sunrise, and they can make better use of the daylight.”

William Willett | Courtesy photo

Willett submitted his idea to parliament, where it was considered and rejected for 8 consecutive years. Willett died in 1915.

“But in 1916,” Prerau says, “the Germans were fighting the British (in World War One). The Germans had heard of this British idea of Daylight Saving Time and they thought it would save energy for the war-time effort. So, they (began observing) Daylight Saving Time first,” Prerau says.

The United States implemented Daylight Saving Time when they joined the war effort in 1918. Prerau says DST has had a contentious history ever since.

Farmers, apparently, have been the leading group against it from the beginning. But people in urban areas often seem to like it.

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Prior to 1966, DST has been inconsistently observed in the U.S. When Congress passed the Uniform Time Act, DST became a federally regulated time change. The most recent change came in 2005 when Congress extended DST. Since 2007, DST in the U.S. has begun in March and ended in November. This is all based on information obtained from Google.

A long and turbulent history begs the question I first posed, Why do we observe Daylight Saving Time?

That question is still being debated today. The majority of people I’ve asked say they like the extra hour of sleep from falling back an hour in November, but hate the shorter daylight hours. Others say they like having sunlight first thing in the morning at this time of year. But among my circle of influence, at least, the consensus seems to be that longer daylight hours are preferred.

On that note, don’t forget to go back an hour this Sunday at 2 a.m.