One of my favorite days of the year is coming up, the Sunday that we fall back, and I gain an extra hour. Before I stated working weekends this extra hour was extra time spent sleeping or doing just nothing. Now on Saturday night I enjoy going to bed knowing I have an extra hour to sleep before my alarm clock goes off for work or if I am reading a good book, I know that I can stay up a little longer.
I had always heard that daylight saving time was implemented to allow farmers extra time to work the crops, but springing forward, and falling back has a long history. “Ben Franklin—of “early to bed and early to rise” fame—was apparently the first person to suggest the concept of daylight savings, according to computer scientist David Prerau, author of the book Seize the Daylight: The Curious and Contentious Story of Daylight Saving Time“. Brian Handwerk wrote more about the history of day light savings time and even researched if we actually save energy by changing our clocks. Here is most of his article first published on the National Geographic web page:
While serving as U.S. ambassador to France in Paris, Franklin wrote of being awakened at 6 a.m. and realizing, to his surprise, that the sun would rise far earlier than he usually did. Imagine the resources that might be saved if he and others rose before noon and burned less midnight oil, Franklin, tongue half in cheek, wrote to a newspaper.
“Franklin seriously realized it would be beneficial to make better use of daylight but he didn’t really know how to implement it,” Prerau said.
It wasn’t until World War I that daylight savings were realized on a grand scale. Germany was the first state to adopt the time changes, to reduce artificial lighting and thereby save coal for the war effort. Friends and foes soon followed suit.
In the U.S. a federal law standardized the yearly start and end of daylight saving time in 1918—for the states that chose to observe it.
During World War II the U.S. made daylight saving time mandatory for the whole country, as a way to save wartime resources. Between February 9, 1942, and September 30, 1945, the government took it a step further. During this period daylight saving time was observed year-round, essentially making it the new standard time, if only for a few years.
Since the end of World War II, though, daylight saving time has always been optional for U.S. states. But its beginning and end have shifted—and occasionally disappeared.
During the 1973-74 Arab oil embargo, the U.S. once again extended daylight saving time through the winter, resulting in a one percent decrease in the country’s electrical load, according to federal studies cited by Prerau.
Thirty years later the Energy Policy Act of 2005 was enacted, mandating a controversial monthlong extension of daylight saving time, starting in 2007.
But does daylight saving time really save any energy?
Daylight Saving Time: Energy Saver or Just Time Suck?
In recent years several studies have suggested that daylight saving time doesn’t actually save energy—and might even result in a net loss.
Environmental economist Hendrik Wolff, of the University of Washington, co-authored a paper that studied Australian power-use data when parts of the country extended daylight saving time for the 2000 Sydney Olympics and others did not. The researchers found that the practice reduced lighting and electricity consumption in the evening but increased energy use in the now dark mornings-wiping out the evening gains.
Likewise, Matthew Kotchen, an economist at the University of California, saw in Indiana a situation ripe for study.
Prior to 2006 only 15 of the state’s 92 counties observed daylight saving time. So when the whole state adopted daylight saving time, it became possible to compare before-and-after energy use. While use of artificial lights dropped, increased air-conditioning use more than offset any energy gains, according to the daylight saving time research Kotchen led for the National Bureau of Economic Research