The time-honored ritual of setting clocks forward an hour is coming in the spring, as daylight saving time (sometimes erroneously called daylight savings time) will kick in. The springtime clock-change continues the long tradition started by Benjamin Franklin to conserve energy.
Below is a look at when daylight saving time starts and ends during the year, its history, why we have it now and some myths and interesting facts about the time change.
When Does It Start and End?
Historically, daylight saving time has begun in the summer months and ended for winter, though the dates have changed over time as the U.S. government has passed new statutes, according to the U.S. Naval Observatory (USNO).
Starting in 2007, DST begins in the United States on the second Sunday in March, when people move their clocks forward an hour at 2 a.m. local standard time (so at 2 a.m. on that day, the clocks will then read 3 a.m. local daylight time). Daylight saving time ends on the first Sunday in November, when clocks are moved back an hour at 2 a.m. local daylight time (so they will then read 1 a.m. local standard time).
Last year, DST began on March 13 and ended on Nov. 6. And this year, DST begins on March 12 and ends on Nov. 5, 2017.
How Did It Start?
Benjamin Franklin takes the honor (or the blame, depending on your view of the time changes) for coming up with the idea to reset clocks in the summer months as a way to conserve energy, according to David Prerau, author of “Seize the Daylight: The Curious and Contentious Story of Daylight Saving Time” (Thunder’s Mouth Press, 2005). By moving clocks forward, people could take advantage of the extra evening daylight rather than wasting energy on lighting. At the time, Franklin was ambassador to Paris and so wrote a witty letter to the Journal of Paris in 1784, rejoicing over his “discovery” that the sun provides light as soon as it rises.
Even so, DST didn’t officially begin until more than a century later. Germany established DST in May 1916 as a way to conserve fuel during World War I. The rest of Europe came onboard shortly thereafter. And in 1918, the United States adopted daylight saving time.
Though President Woodrow Wilson wanted to keep daylight saving time after WWI ended, the country was mostly rural at the time and farmers objected, partly because it would mean they lost an hour of morning light. (It’s a myth that DST was instituted to help farmers.) And so daylight saving time was abolished until the next war brought it back into vogue. At the start of WWII, on Feb. 9, 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt re-established daylight saving time year-round, calling it “War Time.” [Learn more about the crazy history of Daylight Saving Time]
After the war, a free-for-all system in which U.S. states and towns were given the choice of whether or not to observe DST led to chaos. And in 1966, to tame such “Wild West” mayhem, Congress enacted the Uniform Time Act. That federal law meant that any state observing DST — and they didn’t have to jump on the DST bandwagon — had to follow a uniform protocol throughout the state in which daylight saving time would begin on the first Sunday of April and end on the last Sunday of October.
Then, in 2007, the Energy Policy Act of 2005 went into effect, expanding the length of daylight saving time to the present timing.