Jersey Reflections: Daylight Saving Time

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If there’s an American blueprint for Daylight Saving Time, it would probably be in the form of a comment made by Benjamin Franklin while he was serving as an agent in London in the late 1700s.

During one of his summers there, he remarked that “… in walking thro’ the Strand and Fleet-street one morning at seven o’clock, I observ’d there was not one shop open, tho’ it had been daylight and the sun up above three hours; the inhabitants of London chusing [choosing] voluntarily to live much by candle-light, and sleep by sunshine, and yet often complain, a little absurdly, of the duty on candles and the high price of tallow.”

Franklin carried his musings to Paris shortly afterward, envisioning the City of Light conserving on candles by taking full advantage of daylight, with citizens rising an hour earlier during the warmer months.

The loudest voices of opposition, however, were those of farmers, who argued that 'they worked from dawn to dusk and couldn’t adjust their hours simply because the clock showed a different time.'

The above information appears in Chris Pearce’s recent study The Great Daylight Saving Time Controversy, a 400-page e-book that thoroughly traces the evolution of the energy-saving routine across both time and the continents.

A meticulously researched account of this annual practice, which takes its 2017 bow on Sunday, the book demythologizes some of the widely held beliefs surrounding the readjustment of clocks by an hour each spring and fall. Along the way, it offers keen insight into the opponents and supporters of this practice.

Franklin belonged to the latter category but did not actively pursue his plan. Instead, the cause would be taken up over a century later by William Willet, an Englishman who, according to Pearce, “proposed seriously that we move the clock hands forward…His plan was to put clocks forward 20 minutes each Sunday in April for a total of 80 minutes and then back 20 minutes each Sunday in September.

This process of phasing the change in and out, he argued, would mean no one would really notice it, yet people would have the benefit of an hour and 20 minutes extra light late in the day over the summer months.” 

Willet eventually rallied the support of medical professionals, banks, some railroads and even Sherlock Holmes author Arthur Conan Doyle. But the stock exchange and scientists who had developed the systems of standard time and time zones opposed daylight saving.

The loudest voices of opposition, however, were those of farmers, who argued that “they worked from dawn to dusk and couldn’t adjust their hours simply because the clock showed a different time.”

As the debate raged, sports entered the argument as a suitable reason for advancing the clock each spring before rolling it back in the fall, but by the time the country was plunged into World War I, “the potential for fuel savings in wartime became the overriding motive for a time change by the mid 1910s,” Pearce writes. 

With the conclusion of the war in November 1918, many in Britain admitted a preference for the daylight-saving system, but any chance of implementing it would occur amidst the continual complaints of farmers.

Pearce writes that “When World War I ended, the United Kingdom had already been back on standard time for six weeks, with daylight saving for 1918 finishing on 30 September. Most of the public seemed to favour [sic] continuing the scheme and the British Parliament decided to set the period each year under the Summer Time Act 1916, a wartime emergency Act that hadn’t been repealed. There were ongoing protests from the agricultural sector, but the government considered that the benefits of daylight saving time to the community as a whole outweighed the disadvantages.”

But it would be four years before Daylight Saving Time was restored to the British Isles. During the interim, conferences with France and Belgium were held to determine exactly when clocks would be adjusted during the year.

“Agreement was reached for summer time to run from the last week in March to the first week in October,” Pearce reports, but dates would change again after the new British law was passed in 1922. By that time, the U.S. had been experimenting with Daylight Saving Time and encountering problems similar to those in Britain.

Related: Jersey Reflections: Aviation Race

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