Why do clocks go forward in spring? Thanks to wars, confusion and hunger for sunlight.


Once again, most Americans will set their clocks ahead an hour this weekend, perhaps losing a little sleep but getting more sunlight in the evenings as the days warm toward summer.

But where did all this come from?

How we came to set the clocks forward in the spring and then back in the fall is a story that spans more than a century, fueled by two world wars, mass confusion at times, and human desire. sunbathe as long as possible.

There has been much debate about this practice, but about 70 countries (about 40% of those worldwide) currently use what Americans call daylight saving time.

While moving clocks forward “kind of jolts our system,” the additional natural light gets people outdoors, exercising and having fun, says Anne Buckle, web editor of timeanddate.com, which features time information, time zones and astronomy.

“The really amazing advantage is the bright nights, right?” she says. “It’s actually having hours of daylight after you get home from work to spend time with family or do activities. And that’s wonderful.”

Here are some things you should know so that you are familiar with humans’ practice of changing time:

How did this start?

In the 1890s, George Vernon Hudson, a New Zealand astronomer and entomologist, proposed a time change in spring and autumn to increase daylight. And in the early 1900s, British housebuilder William Willett, concerned that people were not awake enjoying the morning sunlight, made a similar effort. But none of the proposals gained enough support to be implemented.

Germany began using daylight saving time during World War I with the idea of ​​saving energy. Other countries, including the United States, soon followed suit. During World War II, the United States once again instituted what was called “war time” throughout the country, this time year-round.

Today in the United States, all states except Hawaii and Arizona observe daylight saving time. Around the world, Europe, much of Canada, and part of Australia also implement it, while Russia and Asia currently do not.

Massive inconsistency and confusion

After World War II, a patchwork of timekeeping emerged across the United States, with some areas maintaining daylight saving time and others abandoning it.

“It is possible that one city has daylight saving time, that the neighboring city has daylight saving time but starts and ends on different dates, and that the third neighboring city does not have it at all,” says David Prerau, author of the book “Take advantage of the light.” of the day: the curious and controversial history of daylight saving time”.

At one point, if passengers on a 35-mile (56-kilometer) bus ride from Steubenville, Ohio, to Moundsville, West Virginia, wanted their watches to be accurate, they would have to change them seven times while diving and off schedule. summer, says Prerau.

Then, in 1966, the United States Congress passed the Uniform Time Act, which states that states can implement daylight saving time or not, but it has to be statewide. The law also mandates the day on which daylight saving time begins and ends nationwide.

Time change confusion is not just a thing of the past. Chaos ensued in the nation of Lebanon last spring when the government announced a last-minute decision to delay the start of daylight saving time by a month, until the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Some institutions made the change and others refused as citizens tried to rebuild their agendas. A few days later, the decision was reversed.

“It really became a big mess where no one knew what time it was,” Buckle says.

No time change?

Changing clocks twice a year generates many complaints, and pressure often arises to use standard time year-round or stick to daylight saving time year-round.

During the energy crisis of the 1970s, the United States began year-round daylight saving time, and Americans didn’t like it. Because in some areas the sun did not rise in winter until 9 a.m. or even later, people woke up in the dark, went to work in the dark, and sent their children to school in the dark, Prerau says.

“It became very unpopular very quickly,” Prerau says.

And, he points out, using standard time year-round would mean losing that extra hour of daylight for eight months at night in the United States.

The first to adopt

In 1908, the Canadian city of Thunder Bay (then the two cities of Fort William and Port Arthur) switched from the Central Time Zone to the Eastern Time Zone for the summer and fall after a citizen named John Hewitson argued that that It would allow an extra hour of daylight to enjoy the outdoors, says Michael deJong, curator and archivist at the Thunder Bay Museum.

The following year, however, Port Arthur remained on Eastern Time, while Fort William switched back to Central Time in the fall, which, unsurprisingly, “led to all kinds of confusion,” deJong says.

Today, the city of Thunder Bay is on Eastern Time and observes Daylight Saving Time, giving the area “long, deliciously warm days to enjoy” in the summer, says Paul Pepe, tourism manager for the Thunder Bay Community Economic Development Commission.

The city, located on Lake Superior, is far enough north that the sun sets around 10 p.m. in the summer, Pepe says, and that helps offset the cold, dark winters. Residents, he says, tend to go on vacation in the winter and stay home in the summer: “I think for a lot of people here, the long days, the warm temperatures of summer, it’s a vacation in their backyard.”

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