In the year 1918, you were twice as likely to die from the flu as from heart disease. Now in 2018 it's 10 times more likely that your heart will kill you than the flu, and life expectancy is decades longer.
In 1918, about a third of us worked on farms, even with WWI going on. Now it's about 1 percent.
In 1918 there was certainly no internet, and no television. Some of the rich had radio in their homes, but it was very rare, in part because so few homes even had electricity.
Only about one family in 50 had a car.
In 1918 one thing started, however, that we still have today: Daylight Saving Time.
One other thing started that year that we also still have today: Hatred of Daylight Saving Time.
Brief History of Daylight Saving Time
The widespread belief, still, is that we have DST because of the farmers. That may be one of the biggest PR fabrications of all time, a total lie that persists now, 100 years later.
The truth is that a retailer in Boston, Filene's, wanted people to have more time to shop after work. So they hired a PR firm to come up with a rationale. If they just told people it was to make more money for Filene's, well, that wouldn't work. (It was true then, and it's true now, that more daylight later in the day leads to more shopping.)
So they announced a "study" showing that "the farmers" wanted DST, completely making up a bunch of total crap about fruit having more nutrition when picked with the morning dew still on it. People believed it then, and still do today.
The truth is that farmers always hated it. In those days dairy farmers would actually milk cows and deliver the milk to people that same day, before it could go bad. (See above about a lack of electricity, and there certainly were no refrigerated trucks. Pasteurization wouldn't be mandatory in the US until 1947.) So, DST meant farmers had to get up even earlier in the middle of the night.
(Now most farmers don't care, but DST still screws the milk producers. Cows are milked on a timed schedule, so for two weeks a year production gets thrown off because the cows don't know why the milking is off by an hour.)
All of that doesn't actually even matter that much, because that's not why the US adopted Daylight Saving Time.
Why did we start?
My theory is that it was all a way to distract a population.
And -- foreshadowing -- that's why we still have it.
World War I and Daylight Saving Time
The real reason we started in the US was to keep in synch with the British during the war, and the reason the Brits switched was to keep in pace with the Germans.
Why did the Germans switch? The reason given at the time was that it would save on fuel oil, much needed during the war.
That theory is largely accepted today, but I'm calling BS on that. Very few homes in Germany were heated with fuel oil in 1917, and those that were couldn't get any fuel oil anyway.
The winter of 1917 was what's called the "Turnip Winter." In those days people didn't eat turnips because... well... for obvious reasons. They were grown only because they were a cheap way to make food for cows and pigs.
But in that winter, all the meat was sent to the troops, so the people in Germany were reduced to eating turnips.
To distract the population, the government came up with A PLAN! The plan was to change the clocks by an hour in the winter.
There's no evidence that changing the clocks did save any fuel oil, by the way.
Once the Germans changed, the Brits did, and then we in the U.S. did, too, for the rest of WWI.
When the war was over, politicians here in the US didn't want to do continue to piss off the third of the population of voters that worked on farms, so it was scrapped. Our country had no mandate to change clocks twice per year until after Pearl Harbor.
Modern History of Daylight Saving Time
With a similar lack of science but an abundance of Do Everything Possible To Win The War, we switched to “War Time” for the years of the war.
The war changed so much of our society, with suburbs, science, medicine and all the rest, that my hunch is that we kept DST sort of as a nod to the fact that farmers really didn't matter any more. We needed to keep the modern and nuclear age version of how we kept time.
The problem, of course, is that people hated it. So local politicians responded to the people by switching into or out of DST based on what they thought people wanted. From after the war to the early 1960s there were hundreds of different local DST moves at a state or local level.
So, the US Congress stepped in and created the Uniform Time Act of 1966, just two years shy of the 50th birthday of DST in the US. That Act took away nearly all of the ability of local jurisdictions to make up their own minds about what time zone to be in. You could either stay in Standard time year-round, or you got with the system, Bub.
Arizona, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico all decided to stay in Standard Time, but all the rest have stayed in clock-changing uniformity, as literally required by federal law.
One change of note came in 1974, right in the middle of Watergate. President Nixon thought it would be a good idea to go back to Daylight Saving Time in January. Just as with the Germans in 1917, the announced reason was to save energy, but the real reason was to distract people from Watergate.
Maybe if everyone is sleep-deprived, they'll forget about Watergate.
Nixon probably never said that, but I wouldn't be surprised if he thought it.
Everyone hated a sudden change to the clocks in the middle of the winter, and it didn't distract anyone. Nixon resigned in August of that year, and Congress went back to the old style of Daylight Saving Time that fall.
And because of that, New Mexico was blocked from fixing the situation in 2017. No kidding.
What can you do today to #LockTheClock and fix DST?
If you are one of the vast majority of people who hate changing clocks twice per year, there is something that you can do.
I'm a citizen.
Awesome. You hold the power. Begin talking about this to anyone and everyone. Read more on this blog. Share the #LockTheClock hashtag.
In short, let everyone know that we really don't have to go through this insanity twice per year.
I'm a state legislator.
If you are here, you've probably already figured out that your options are limited. You know that you can't just change your state into year-round DST because of the federal law, and a big pile of lobbyists from golf, retail, recreation and more will fight you if you try to take away the sunshine from summer afternoons and evenings and go to standard time year-round.
There's one very narrow window that might work.
- If your state is all in one time zone now, and
- If you are on the Eastern border of your time zone.
If both of those things are true you might be able to choose to move one time zone to the east, and then take the legal option to stay in standard time year round.
That way you can do what the people want, which is year-round DST, even though it seems a little funny legislatively.
(New Mexico tried to do that, only to have the bill die on the last day of the session last year because of... wait for it... Watergate. True Story.)
The reason I say you might be able to move one time zone to the east is that the law hasn't really been tested. You should for sure try it, and let the feds tell you that you can't. "States rights" and "power reserved to the states" etc.
Chances are you can't really fix it for your state alone, so what I recommend is passing a resolution. California did it with broad, bi-partisan support, and you can do it, too. If enough states pass that resolution, that will go a long way to getting Congress to fix it.
I'm a teacher.
First, thanks for all you do.
When the spring-forward clock change comes, it would be a perfect time to do a science unit. Have students run an experiment on how hard robbing people of an hour of sleep is. Then take those results and deliver them to your state legislator. Sounds like an interdisciplinary dream unit!
Is this the year we end DST?
I see many hopeful signs. The study committee in Massachusetts did great work. There's a raft of proposed legislation coming again this year.
The problem, as I've written, really is Trump. Just as Watergate was both the reason for the last big change to DST and the reason that it hasn't changed again in the last 40 years, I don't want to have another DST change now as a distraction from the current Trump-Russia situation.
So -- and it breaks my heart to say this -- I actually do not think this will be the year for the change. There's just too much else going on.
That being said, we can and should do all we can. See what I wrote above. If you are a teacher, dive in! The kids will love it. If you are a citizen, make some noise! If you are a legislator, propose a resolution or a study committee.
This scourge of Daylight Saving Time is bad, and while it would be poetic and lovely for it to end in its 100th year, I want to make sure that when we kill it, it stays dead forever.