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Why Does Daylight Saving Time Exist, Anyway?

This forced disruption in the flow of time has its arguably anachronistic roots in World War I

Robert Roy Britt
3 min readOct 30, 2020

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Daylight Saving Time is at best annoying and anachronistic. At worst, research suggests it’s ineffective, unhealthy and even dangerous. So why are most Americans forced to spring forward and fall back every year?

The time warp traces back to WW1, when clocks were tweaked (by hand, it should be noted) at the request of the Federal government as a way to conserve fuel and lengthen the workday for the sake of the war effort. It was pitched as more than that, however:

Uncle Sam, in this 1918 poster, put a positive farming spin on a new law aimed at adding an hour of daylight to American’s evening awake time in support of the war effort. Credit: Library of Congress

The 1918 Standard Time Act that ushered in Daylight Saving Time (DST) also established Standard Time. When the law was repealed after the war, Standard Time remained as a seemingly eternal vestige.

But even time is not eternal when governments get involved.

The hands of time were tinkered with again during WWII, with DST making a comeback. Then after that war, the federal government ended DST as a requirement, but this time states were allowed to stick with it if they chose. Then in 1966, the Department of Transportation (DoT) was created and took charge of DST, and with further passage of time that agency set and reset the clock to the times and dates we suffer with today.

DST actually became the full-time thing between January 1974 and April 1975, in an effort to lessen the impact of an OPEC oil embargo. After the return to semi-annual switching, specific start/stop dates were revised in 1987 and again in 2007, when the onset was moved up from April to March and the end was pushed back from October to November.

Daylight Saving Time in the United States now starts on the second Sunday of March, when clocks are pushed forward an hour at 2 a.m., and ends on the first Sunday in November, when clocks are pulled back an hour at 2 a.m. to return to Standard Time, at which point everyone regains the hour of sleep they lost in the spring.

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Robert Roy Britt

Editor of Aha! and Wise & Well on Medium + the Writer's Guide at writersguide.substack.com. Author of Make Sleep Your Superpower: amazon.com/dp/B0BJBYFQCB