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Mysteries of daylight-saving time

Daylight-saving time begins for most of the United States at 2 a.m. this Sunday and reverts to standard time at 2 a.m. on the last Sunday in October.

The idea of “saving daylight” was first conceived by Benjamin Franklin in an essay “An Economical Project” written in 1784. But daylight-saving time wasn’t formally adopted in the United States until 134 years later in 1918 when “an Act to preserve daylight and provide standard time for the United States” was passed by Congress. The Act established standard time zones and set Daylight-saving time to begin on March 31, 1918.

During the First World War, daylight-saving time (DST) was observed for seven months in both 1918 and 1919, but after the war ended, the law proved so unpopular that it was repealed”perhaps because back then, with no TV, Internet and other forms of entertainment, people rose earlier and went to bed earlier than they do today.



Because Congress repealed the law, DST became a local proposition and was continued in a handful of states and a few of America’s larger cities, such as New York, Chicago and Philadelphia.

After the outbreak of World War II, President Franklin D. Roosevelt instituted DST on a year-round basis, but re-named it “War Time.” This lasted from February 2, 1942 to September 30, 1945. However, after the war and up until 1966, there was no uniformity regarding DST, meaning that states and local municipalities were free to choose whether or not to observe DST and when it began and ended.



This caused a great deal of confusion, especially within the broadcasting and transportation industries. Because of the different local customs and laws, radio and TV stations, airlines, railways and bus companies found them selves republishing schedules every time a locality began or ended daylight-saving time.

Perhaps the most bizarre example of inconsistencies occurred on a 35-mile stretch of road between Moundsville, W.V., and Steubenville, Ohio, where there were seven time changes. With this hodgepodge of time observances and little agreement about when to change clocks, the matter remained anywhere from messy to incoherent.

But many business concerns saw the benefits of standardization ” although it became a bitter fight among certain segments of the economy like the indoor and outdoor theater industries and much of the farming industry. The net result was that depending on geographic, demographic and economic conditions, state and local governments had a variety of interests pulling and pushing them in opposite directions.



Nevertheless, efforts at standardization were encouraged primarily by a transportation industry organization”the Committee for Time Uniformity (CTU.) In an unusual survey, the CTU assessed the matter by questioning telephone operators throughout the nation as to local time observances, and found the situation bewildering, to say the least.

The CTU then pressed for a strong supportive story on the front page of the New York Times. The story had its intended effect (ah, the power of the press) and rallied the general public’s support. Thus was the CTU’s goal accomplished.

Nevertheless, by the 1960s, roughly half of all Americans were observing daylight-saving time and half were not; so Congress stepped in and ended the confusion by establishing a single pattern across the country.

The Uniform Time Act of 1966 was signed into law on April 12, 1966, stipulating that daylight-saving time would begin on the last Sunday of April and to end on the last Sunday of October, with the provision that any state could be exempt from DST by passing its own law.

In 1972, Congress revised the Act to provide that if a state was in two or more time zones, it could exempt the part of the state that was in one time zone while providing that the part of the state in a different time zone would observe daylight-saving time. This law stood until January 6th, 1974, when President Nixon signed the Emergency Daylight-Saving Time Energy Conservation Act, and America’s clocks were set ahead for a 15-month period through April 27, 1975.

Federal Law was again amended in 1986, only this time, DST was to begin at 2 a.m. on the first Sunday of April and end at 2 a.m. on the last Sunday of October, which is where things stand now”at least until next March, when the Energy Policy Act will extend daylight-saving time by four weeks”beginning on the second Sunday of March and ending on the first

Sunday of November.

So for Americans who find this overly confusing, we may want to ask ourselves if we would prefer the Chinese method of time-keeping. China, a nation larger than the contiguous 48 states and spanning five time-zones, favors standardization. Beijing has chosen not only to disregard the notion of Daylight-saving time, but also to employ a single ‘standard time’ for the entire country. (For a sense of perspective, imagine New York and Honolulu on the same time.)

I don’t know about you, but from my perspective and regardless of the benefits of standardization, I’d rather re-set my clock twice a year than have lunch an hour after the sun comes up!

Butch Mazzuca, a local Realtor and ski instructor, writes a weekly column for the Daily. He can be reached at bmazz68@earthlink.net.

Vail, Colorado

Vail, Colorado


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