Returning to morning daylight: Why we ‘fall back’ each fall
Oct 31, 2016
Meg Jones, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
7:05 a.m. EDT October 31, 2016
Published in USA Today
MILWAUKEE — For everyone who has been yawning since March 13, prepare to enjoy that lost hour of sleep when daylight saving time ends Sunday and standard time returns.
Why can't we just keep our clocks unchanged? Why do we go through this time warp twice a year?
Some say it's Benjamin Franklin's fault. Some blame farmers, or golfers who felt ripped off when their golf games ended at dusk. Others say it was a way to save energy, which back then meant candles and coal.
If you want to point fingers, perhaps Culprit No. 1 would be the Earth's axis, because if the planet wasn't tilted, hours of daylight wouldn't change so much.
"There's always been controversy about the extent to which it accomplishes its goals," said Dan Phaneuf, a professor of agriculture and applied economics at University of Wisconsin-Madison.
"One study shows energy use actually goes up. The later daylight is associated with doing activities later, which affects air conditioning. One other study showed it didn't change. Their use of energy went up in the evening and down in the morning so it evened out," Phaneuf said.
It might seem like daylight saving time has been a part of Americans' lives forever — though not for the good folks of Hawaii and Arizona — but actually it wasn't uniform until then-president Lyndon Johnson signed a law in 1966 designed to simplify the start and end dates across the country. States could opt out of daylight saving time entirely, and two outliers did: Arizona and Hawaii. (Parts of Indiana didn't observe daylight saving time until 2006, when it became uniform statewide.)
Until then, states, counties and even communities pretty much picked and chose when clocks would be changed, which created quite a few headaches. The year before Johnson signed the Uniform Time Act, Minneapolis switched to daylight saving time two hours before St. Paul, and apparently one office building in St. Paul had nine floors of city employees observing daylight saving time while nine floors of county workers didn't. In Iowa, there were 23 different starting times for daylight saving time.
During World War II, President Franklin Roosevelt decreed the whole country would observe what was called "War Time," making it easier for train schedules, defense workers punching clocks and pickup and delivery for goods connected to the war effort. A 1942 Milwaukee Journal article reminded people of the time change to start at 2 a.m. on Feb. 9.
"At that moment, the patriotic thing to do is grasp the alarm clock firmly in the left hand, using the right hand to turn that little jigger in the back an hour ahead, and zingo! — it's 3 a.m. war time, or victory time, if you please."
During the energy crisis of the 1970s, Congress ordered states to go on year-round daylight saving time between January 1974 and April 1975, which prompted some parents and school districts to worry about children walking to school or standing at bus stops in the dark.
Farmers never pushed for daylight saving time, because they didn't want to lose an hour of morning light during the fall harvest. And the point can be made that cows don't wear watches and prefer regularly scheduled milkings, so changing clocks just means logistical problems for farmers and milk truck schedules.
Of course, some businesses think daylight saving time is great — golf courses and grill and charcoal industries, to name a few, because of the additional daylight time when people are awake, noted Phaneuf. However, some studies also have shown that work-related accidents and car crashes go up in the week after daylight saving time takes effect, probably from groggy drivers and workers; and the TV Nielsen ratings dipped right after clocks change in the spring because people spend more time outside their homes taking advantage of the added daylight.
Although Franklin didn't start the daylight saving time movement — that didn't happen until a New Zealand entomologist proposed it in 1895 so he could have more time collecting insects after knocking off work for the day — Franklin was an early advocate. While he was posted to France, the early-riser and one of the Founding Fathers noticed that Parisians were still slumbering in the early morning, which meant they were wasting daylight.