THROWBACK THURSDAY: The History of Daylight Savings Time

Daylight Savings Time begins this Sunday, March 8 at 2:00 a.m. Be sure to set your clocks ahead one hour!

Although Daylight Saving Time has been used in the U.S. and in many European countries since World War I, on and off, it only became regular policy here in the mid ’70s.

During World War I, it was instituted in an effort to conserve fuel needed to produce electric power.   Germany and Austria began saving daylight at 11:00 p.m. on April 30, 1916, by advancing the hands of the clock one hour until the following October. Other countries immediately adopted this 1916 action.

The plan was not formally adopted in the U.S. until 1918. ‘An Act to preserve daylight and provide standard time for the United States‘ was enacted on March 19, 1918. It established standard time zones and set summer DST to begin on March 31, 1918. Daylight Saving Time was observed for seven months in 1918 and 1919. After the War ended, the law proved so unpopular (mostly because people rose earlier and went to bed earlier than people do today) that it was repealed in 1919 with a Congressional override of President Wilson’s veto. Daylight Saving Time became a local option, and was continued in a few states, such as Massachusetts and Rhode Island, and in some cities, such as New York, Philadelphia, and here in Chicago.

During World War II, President Franklin Roosevelt instituted year-round Daylight Saving Time, called “War Time,” from February 9, 1942 to September 30, 1945.   From 1945 to 1966, there was no federal law regarding Daylight Saving Time, so states and localities were free to choose whether or not to observe it and could choose when it began and ended. This understandably caused confusion, especially for the broadcasting industry, as well as for railways, airlines, and bus companies. Because of the different local customs and laws, radio and TV stations and the transportation companies had to publish new schedules every time a state or town began or ended Daylight Saving Time.

By 1966, some 100 million Americans were observing Daylight Saving Time based on their local laws and customs. Congress decided to step in and end the confusion, and to establish one pattern across the country. The Uniform Time Act of 1966 (15 U.S. Code Section 260a), signed into Public Law on April 12, 1966, by President Lyndon Johnson, created Daylight Saving Time to begin on the last Sunday of April and to end on the last Sunday of October. Any State that wanted to be exempt from Daylight Saving Time could do so by passing a state law.

The Uniform Time Act of 1966 established a system of uniform (within each time zone) Daylight Saving Time throughout the U.S. and its possessions, exempting only those states in which the legislatures voted to keep the entire state on standard time.

In 1972, Congress revised the law to provide that, if a state was in two or more time zones, the state 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. The Federal law was amended in 1986 to begin Daylight Saving Time on the first Sunday in April.

It wasn’t until January 4, 1974 that President Nixon signed into law the Emergency Daylight Saving Time Energy Conservation Act of 1973, and beginning on January 6, 1974, clocks were set ahead. On October 5, 1974, Congress amended the Act, and Standard Time returned on October 27, 1974.

The Energy Policy Act of 2005 extended Daylight Saving Time in the U.S. beginning in 2007, though Congress retained the right to revert to the 1986 law should the change prove unpopular or if energy savings are not significant. Going from 2007 forward, Daylight Saving Time in the U.S.

  • begins at 2:00 a.m. on the second Sunday of March and
  • ends at 2:00 a.m. on the first Sunday of November

In most of the countries of Western Europe, including the countries that are members of the EU, Daylight Saving Time:

  • begins at 1:00 a.m. GMT on the last Sunday of March and
  • ends at 1:00 a.m. GMT on the last Sunday of October