What Time is it Again?

March 18, 2013

The first time that the United States instituted daylight savings time (DST) was on March 19, 1918. During World War I many nations had adopted the practice of setting their clocks ahead one hour in an attempt to conserve fuel that was needed to produce electric energy. The practice began with Germany and Austria on April 30, 1916, causing a host of other European powers to adopt the practice as well.

Two years later the United States formally followed suit when it passed “An Act to preserve daylight and provide standard time for the United States,” which established standard time zones as well as setting summer DST to begin on March 31, 1918. Daylight savings time was observed for seven months, but after the war ended, public outcry against the practice was so strong that it was repealed in 1919. Instead of the uniform and mandatory practice that DST is today, it became a local option, which allowed states and cities to decide for themselves whether or not it should be adopted.

During World War II, however, DST was once again a federally legislated policy, but this time it was known by the moniker “War Time.” But, beginning in 1945 following the end of WWII, there was, once again, no federal law which regulated DST, leaving to the states and localities the ability to decide whether or not to observe DST and if so, when it would start and end. The lack of a uniform time throughout the country caused a great deal of confusion for 21 years until The Uniform Time Act of 1966 finally established a uniform system of DST throughout the United States (though it was, of course, specific to each time zone), exempting only those states whose legislatures voted to remain on standard time.

The entire nation did not adopt DST in 1966, however, and in some states confusion still reigned. Indiana is a noteworthy case: Until April of 2005, Indiana had a complex system in place whereby 77 of the state’s 92 counties did not observe daylight savings time. Currently, there are still two states (Arizona and Hawaii) which do not observe daylight savings time, but, luckily, the creation of a uniform system of time in the nation as a whole allows us to avoid the confusion that was present when time was variable from city to city and state to state during the 21 years from the end of Roosevelt’s “War Time” in 1945 until the passage of the Uniform Time Act in 1966.

Now, the only confusion we have to contend with is the disorientation that comes with losing an hour of sleep when we “Spring forward” each year.

–Mariah Dunsing is a senior Ashbrook Scholar majoring in History and Political Science.

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