By Neal Lineback and Mandy Lineback Gritzner, Geography in the NewsTM
No Longer Saving Time?
Daylight saving time will be over for this year in most of the United States at 2 a.m. on November 2. With the exceptions of American Samoa, Arizona, Hawaii, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, the rest of the country will “fall back” an hour to Standard Time. Some form of daylight saving time, often called Summer Time in other countries, is now used over much of the world, except in the tropics.
The purpose of daylight saving time is very simple. We change our clocks so that we wake up an hour earlier to take advantage of longer daylight periods during the summer.
As summer approaches, the daylight period of each day grows longer and longer for places outside the tropics. For example, on December 21 in Washington, D.C., winter daylight only lasts about 10 hours. However, on June 21, the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere, summer daylight lasts 14 hours in Washington.
The differential between summer and winter daylight and darkness periods grows greater the further from the tropics one lives. On the equator, days and nights each are always only 12 hours long. Elsewhere in the tropics, daylight periods vary less than an hour, making daylight-saving time unnecessary, as in the only truly tropical U.S. state, Hawaii.
Forty-three countries and territories, including all major industrialized countries except Japan, utilize some form of daylight-saving time. Russia’s president Vladimir Putin recently abolished a four-year trial of daylight saving time, citing confusion across the country’s 11 time zones.
The basic rationale for daylight saving time initially was to save energy by utilizing every available daylight hour for work in offices and factories. Farmers never supported the concept because their workdays during the growing season were usually daylight until dark anyway. In the 1950s and 1960s, outdoor drive-in movie theater operators in the United States detested daylight saving time, as the movies couldn’t start until it became dark around 9 or 10 p.m., too late for many families.
The adoption of standard time preceded the adoption of daylight saving time. Prior to 1840, the entire world was on local time, which was calculated from place to place based on noontime from the high noon sun. The need to standardize time and create 24 time zones around the world was needed to create meaningful railroad and telegraph office schedules. British railroads were the first to adopt a standard time in 1840 for Great Britain and the United States adopted standard time zones in 1847. Today there are six U.S. time zones, including Alaska and Hawaii, each covering approximately 15 degrees of longitude.
Even before standard time was adopted, Benjamin Franklin suggested daylight saving time in Paris in 1784 in his essay “An Economical Project.” The concept languished, however, until there was universal reason to adopt it.
World War I in 1916 became the reason to adopt daylight saving time throughout much of Europe. Two years later, the United States adopted it temporarily. Then President Franklin Roosevelt established year-round War Time during World War II. After the war, some states continued the practice of “saving daylight” during the summer. Until 1966, there was inconsistency in adoption, but the Uniform Time Act of 1966 encouraged states to adopt it.
During the gas crisis of 1972, President Richard Nixon established the Emergency Daylight Saving Time Energy Conservation Act of 1973. Nonetheless, the adoption of daylight saving time remains optional and states still can be exempt by simply passing a state law.
Objections to daylight saving time occasionally arise, but it has become institutionalized for most U.S. citizens. Because so many people work inside buildings and cannot even see sunlight during their workdays, most are appreciative of any daylight hours available during the summer after the workday is finished.
Although daylight saving time doesn’t really save any time, it does make summer days more enjoyable for most of us. Who needs to sleep when the sun’s up, anyway?
Of course, winter days are shorter, necessitating the return to Standard Time for most of us. “Giving up” that extra hour of daylight in the fall is difficult as we readjust our sleep patterns to shorter daylight periods and longer nights.
And that is Geography in the News.
Source: GITN 829, “Saving Time,” Maps.com, April 6, 2006.
Co-authors are Neal Lineback, Appalachian State University Professor Emeritus of Geography, and Geographer Mandy Lineback Gritzner. University News Director Jane Nicholson serves as technical editor. Geography in the NewsTM is solely owned and operated by Neal Lineback for the purpose of providing geographic education to readers worldwide.