-by Tracey Trouten
It’s time again to “spring forward” – an act that makes us want to do anything but. Daylight Saving Time begins at 2:00 AM this evening. The basic idea behind DST is that we shift an hour of daylight from morning to evening, so that instead of sleeping through that hour of sunlight we can make use of it at the end of the day. It’s claimed that as a result less energy is consumed and crime and road accidents decrease. It may be common knowledge that DST gives us longer summer evenings and lower energy bills, but here are 5 lesser-known DST facts as we anticipate the changeover this weekend.
5. DST can mess with birth order
When the changeover happens while twins are being delivered it can make for some strange birth records. In November 2007, a North Carolina woman gave birth to twins the night DST ended. Her son was born at 1:32 AM. 34 minutes later her daughter was born at 1:06 AM.
4. The end of DST stops trains
Trains aren’t allowed to leave a station before their published departure times, in order to keep the timetables accurate. So in the United States, Amtrak trains that are running when Daylight Saving Time ends simply stop on the tracks wherever they are at 2:00 AM and wait an hour (until it’s 2:00 AM again) before resuming their travels.
3. Following WWII, DST was not standardized until 1966
After “War Time” was ended in 1945, the decision of whether to observe DST and when to start and end it was left up to each locality individually. In one year Iowa by itself had 23 different start- and end-dates. This led to a lot of confusion and extra costs, particularly within the transportation industry. On one 35-mile bus route between Ohio and West Virginia, passengers would pass through 7 time zones!
2. Minneapolis and St. Paul had a big fight over DST
In 1965, St. Paul wanted to change DST to an earlier date, to be on track with the rest of the country. Minneapolis disagreed, saying that the state law (which had a later start date) should be followed. The two cities squabbled for a while, and when no agreement could be met they each did what they wanted, resulting in a one-hour difference between the cities for two weeks. In St. Paul mail arrived earlier and many businesses delayed employees’ shifts by an hour. The firemen were on daylight time while the police were on standard – some policeman wore two watches to work, one set to each time zone. Fortunately, the Uniform Time Act of 1966 swiftly put an end to the discrepancy.
1. Benjamin Franklin (sort of) came up with the idea (not really)
Following the demonstration of a new oil lamp in Paris, Franklin penned a mostly-satirical letter to the Journal of Paris about the economy of artificial light. He wrote that the next day he awoke suddenly at six in the morning and was surprised to find his room full of light at such an early hour. “Your readers,” he wrote, “who with me have never seen any signs of sunshine before noon… will be as much astonished as I was, when they hear of his rising so early; and especially when I assure them, that he gives light as soon as he rises.” Franklin came to the conclusion that since candlelight costs much more than sunlight, a small fortune could be saved by Parisians each year by waking up with the sun. To that end he suggested church bells be rung and cannons fired every morning at daybreak to “awaken the sluggards”, candles be rationed, and houses be taxed for having shutters. But Franklin said nothing regarding timekeeping– it would be more than a century later that someone would suggest changing the clocks to make better use of daylight.
So as you wander around your housetonight resetting clocks and grumbling about that lost hour of sleep, remember that it could be a lot worse – you could have to wear two watches to work, or wake up to cannons. And remember, that lost hour of sleep now means long summer evenings are just around the corner.