The U.S. Tried Permanent Daylight Saving MassNews Before
On Tuesday afternoon, just two days after Americans set their clocks forward an hour for Daylight Saving Time, the U.S. Senate passed a bill that would make Daylight Saving Time permanent, so that Americans wouldn’t have to turn their clocks back an hour. This change would have the following effect: in winter when the days are shorter the darkness shifts toward the morning. The sun will rise later than usual in certain places and not set in the middle.
“[T]On the weekend before, everyone went through the annual ritual of switching the clocks back and forth. It was quite disruptive. And one has to ask themselves after a while, ‘Why do we keep doing it? Why do we keep doing it?’” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), a sponsor of the bill, said on the Senate floor.
However, if Congress passes the bill and President Biden sign it, this would be not the first attempt by the U.S. to implement permanent Daylight Savings Time.
“Daylight Saving Time has always been controversial,” says David Prerau, author ofDaylight Savings Time: A Curious and Controversial Story.
Daylight Savings Time was first introduced by the U.S. in World War I as an effort to conserve fuel. The U.S. also adopted a Year-round Daylight Savings Time policy in World War II due to similar reasons. The idea was that Americans wouldn’t have to turn on their lights so early in the day, and thus would save energy. The benefits were also enjoyed by businesses in quieter times. It allowed them to store longer hours and increased their sales. The sport and recreation industries also liked it because they were able to start the games earlier, increasing attendance. Uniform Time Act was established in 1966. It made it U.S. policy for six months of Daylight Savings Time to be followed by six months Standard Time.
Illustration of a businessman sending a postcard to Congressman pledging support for Daylight Saving Time on a poster from the United Cigar Stores Company, circa 1917.
David Pollack/Corbis—Getty Images
In December 1973, amid an energy crisis, President Nixon signed into law a bill for year-round Daylight Saving Time as one way to reduce the nation’s energy consumption. TIME reported back then that the hope was that “setting clocks ahead one hour could reduce nighttime electrical use and shave about 2% off the nation’s demand for energy.”
Learn more This is the Real Reason Daylight Savings Time Works
As Nixon described his rationale for signing the bill into law in a Dec. 15, 1973, statement, “We have taken a number of actions to meet the energy crisis, and more will have to be taken. Some require hardship and inconvenience. But Daylight Saving Time on a year-round basis, which will result in the conservation during the winter months of an estimated equivalent of 150,000 barrels of oil a day, will mean only a minimum of inconvenience and will involve equal participation by all.”
The shift was implemented on January 6, 1974, and quickly raised concern. One was the safety of children walking to school in the morning, after eight children in Florida were involved in predawn car accidents in the wake of the time change, leading a TV commentator to coin the phrase “Daylight Disaster Time.” Reader letters to TIME provide a glimpse at the general opposition to the change. “Little children walking to school in the dark? Mothers are actually driving them. This is saving energy?” Lynn Ward of St. Joseph, Mich., wrote. “No matter how Congress legislates, there are only a limited number of hours of daylight. We on the western edge of a time zone are using more electricity to cope with the extra hour of morning darkness than we did with the hour of evening darkness.” Perhaps referring to Watergate, the other crisis taking up Nixon’s energy at the time, Marianna Byg of Columbus, Ohio, joked, “the Nixon Administration has not seen the light for so long that it thinks it fitting for the rest of the population to be in the dark at least part of the time.”
Although the experiment was meant to last two years, it lasted only eight months and Congress returned to normal time in 1974.
“We’ve already tried year-round Daylight Saving Time, and we found that it was very unpopular. So I would expect some of the same problems might happen again,” says Prerau.
In 1986 the U.S. began to observe seven months Daylight Savings Time. Since then, eight months have been observed from March through November. With each expansion, the rationale has always been, Prerau says, “to go as far as you could go without starting to have the negatives of late sunrises in the winter.”
This proposal, which was just approved by the Senate, would be effective in November 2023.
As for Prerau’s personal opinion on Daylight Saving Time, he prefers the current timeline for changing clocks.
“I personally think that the current system that we have is an excellent compromise, between having Daylight Saving Time most of the year, but eliminating all the negatives of Daylight Saving Time in the winter,” he explains. “For the saving of that one hour of sleep in March, [you’d be]You will have four months of cold and dark days from November to March. So that’s why I think the current system is better.”
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