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6 Illuminating Facts About Daylight Saving Time
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Original photo ZoranOrcik/ Shutterstock

Humans have long sought to control time. While it’s generally considered impossible to bend time to our will, there are two days of the year when we have a little sway over the clock. Daylight saving time — officially beginning on the second Sunday of March and ending on the first Sunday in November — is loathed as much as it is loved, but these six facts just might help you see the time warp in a whole new light.

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Ben Franklin Didn’t Invent Daylight Saving Time

Portrait of Benjamin Franklin.
Credit: Library of Congress/ Corbis Historical via Getty Images

Ben Franklin is often credited as the inventor of daylight saving time — after all, the concept seems on-brand for the founding father who once championed early waking and bedtimes as the key to success. It’s a myth that Franklin invented daylight saving time, though he did once suggest a similar idea. In 1784, Franklin (then living in France) wrote a letter to the Journal de Paris, suggesting that French citizens could conserve candles and money by syncing their schedules with the sun. Franklin’s proposal — wittily written and considered a joke by many historians — didn’t recommend adjusting clocks; the idea was to start and end the day with the sun’s rising and setting, regardless of the actual time.

Franklin’s proposal didn’t get far, but nearly 100 years later, another science-minded thinker devised the daylight saving time strategy we’re familiar with today. George Vernon Hudson, a postal worker and entomologist living in New Zealand, presented the basics of the idea in 1895. Hudson’s version moved clocks ahead two hours in the spring in an effort to extend daylight hours; for him, the biggest benefit of a seasonal time shift would be longer days in which he could hunt for bugs after his post office duties were finished. Hudson’s proposal was initially ridiculed, but three decades later, in 1927, New Zealand’s Parliament gave daylight saving a shot as a trial, and the Royal Society of New Zealand even awarded Hudson a medal for his ingenuity.

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Only 35% of Countries Adjust Their Clocks Seasonally

Closeup of a young man adjusting the time of a clock.
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Germany paved the way for daylight saving time in 1916, becoming the first country to enact Hudson’s idea as an energy-saving move in the midst of World War I. While many countries followed suit — mostly in North America, Europe, parts of the Middle East, and New Zealand — some of the world’s 195 countries didn’t. In fact, around the globe, it’s now more common to not make clock adjustments, especially in countries close to the equator, which don’t experience major seasonal changes in day length. In total, around 70 countries observe the time shift, though even in the U.S., where daylight saving time has been a standard practice mandated by federal law since 1966, two states don’t participate: Arizona and Hawaii.

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The First U.S. Daylight Saving Time Was a Disaster

Two women point to man moving clock hands.
Credit: Bettmann via Getty Images

Marching into World War I, the U.S. adopted the European strategy of rationing energy by adjusting civilian schedules. With more daylight hours, homes and businesses could somewhat reduce their reliance on electricity and other fuels, redirecting them instead to the war effort. But in the early part of the 20th century, timekeeping across the country was far from consistent, so in March 1918, President Woodrow Wilson signed legislation that created the country’s five time zones. That same month, on Easter Sunday, daylight saving time went into effect for the first time ever — though the government’s efforts to create consistent clocks were initially a mess. Holiday celebrations were thrown off by the time changes, and Americans lashed out with a variety of complaints, believing the time change diminished attendance at religious services, reduced early morning recreation, and provided too much daylight, which supposedly destroyed landscaping.

The time shift was temporary, repealed in 1919 at the war’s end, and wouldn’t be seen again on the federal level until World War II. However, some cities and states picked up the idea, adjusting their clocks in spring and fall as they saw fit.

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In the U.S., Daylight Saving Time Once Had a Different Nickname

Back-lit photo of soldiers walking in WWI.
Credit: Frank Hurley/ Hulton Archive via Getty Images

Because of its association with energy rationing during World War I, daylight saving time originally had a different nickname: war time. When the U.S. became involved in World War II nearly two decades later, war time returned, and was in place year-round from February 1942 until September 1945, when it was ditched at the war’s end.

The time change earned its modern title in 1966, when Congress passed the Uniform Time Act, which further standardized time zones and standardized the start and end dates for daylight saving time, among other things. Many countries that follow daylight saving time use the same terminology, though the seasonal time change goes by different labels in some regions: In the U.K., Brits have British Summer Time (BST).

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Dairy Cows (And Farmers) Aren’t Big Fans

Farmer with milk churns and his cows.
Credit: Edler von Rabenstein/ Shutterstock

Daylight saving lore has it that the spring and fall clock changes provide the biggest benefit for farms, though if cows could speak, they might say otherwise. Farmers — who supposedly benefit from the extra hour of light in the afternoon — have heavily lobbied against the time change since it was first enacted in 1918. That’s partially because it’s confusing for livestock such as dairy cows and goats, throwing off their feeding and milking schedules. Some farmers say the loss of morning light also makes it more difficult to complete necessary chores early in the day, and impacts how they harvest and move crops to market.

While farmers have pushed to drop daylight saving time, some industries — like the golf industry — have campaigned to keep it for their benefit. The extra daylight is known for bringing more putters to the courses, generating millions in golf gear sales and game fees. Other big business supporters include the barbecue industry (which sells more grills and charcoal in months with longer daylight hours) and candy companies (benefiting from longer trick-or-treating hours on Halloween).

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The 2 A.M. Start Time Is All Because of Trains

Two o'clock on a clock face.
Credit: janzwolinski/ iStock

President Woodrow Wilson knew that rolling clocks forward and backward twice a year would be somewhat disruptive, so his 1918 wartime plan tried to be minimally bothersome. Instead of adjusting clocks arbitrarily at midnight in March and November, Wilson chose 2 a.m., a time when no passenger trains were running in New York City. While the shift did impact freight trains, there weren’t as many as there are today, so daylight saving time was considered a relatively easy workaround for the railroads. The 2 a.m. adjustment is still considered the least troublesome time today, since most bars and restaurants are closed and the vast majority of people are at home, asleep — either relishing in or begrudgingly accepting their adjusted bedtime schedules.