100 Years of Daylight Saving Time

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It is 100 years since the proposal to introduce Daylight Saving Time. A ride in the woods one morning set-off a one hundred year debate about moving the clocks forward every Spring.

One hundred years ago, in 1905, William Willett, a builder was riding through Petts Wood in London, England and observed that all the window blinds were down and people fast asleep long after sunrise. “What a waste of daylight” he thought. This moment lead to a 10-year campaign by Willet’s who spent large sums of his own money lobbying the British parliament to introduce British Summer Time.

Willett’s idea was not new. In 1784 when living in Paris, France Benjamin Franklin had observed that the good citizens of Paris didn’t rise before noon. Franklin proposed, in a letter entitled “An Economical Project”, published in the Journal de Paris four ways to get citizens to rise early. This included a rationing of candles, ringing of church bells at sunrise and a tax on windows with shutters! The idea didn’t catch on and lay dormant for almost 125 years until Willet’s campaign ignited the issue again.

Willets original proposal was to move the clock forwards by 20 minutes every Sunday in March and back again on the four Sundays in September.

He observed that the average citizen would receive an extra 210 hours of daylight and save 1s 9d (Modern UK: £0.09 USA: $0.17) on the cost of artificial light every year!

Willet’s died in 1915 before the British Summer Time Act was passed into law in 1916. The first Daylight Savings measure in the United States followed a year later in 1917.

There have been many changes since. Winston Churchill was a keen advocate and introduced double summer time during the Second World War to improve war-time production. During the 1970’s permanent daylight saving time was introduced as an energy saving measure.

This year the whole of Europe changed it’s clocks on 27th March 2005 and the United States, together with Canada, will move their clocks forward on Sunday 3rd April. Both continents will revert to Standard Time on the same day, Sunday 30th October.

Stan Barett, Director of the time website http://www.GreenwichMeanTime.com said “what once started as a social issue about improving the lives of citizens has become more popular today but with the focus being on energy consumption”. Speaking on the BBC, Stan said “More countries are adopting daylight saving time measures to reduce electricity generation costs; a key issue with the concerns of global warming in the 21st century.”


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Stan Barett
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