The surprisingly fascinating history of daylight saving time.
Benjamin Franklin was the first person to dream up daylight saving. Awakened by a noise at six in the morning, he was startled to see how light it was and, being a penny-pincher, began immediately to calculate how much money people spent every year by sleeping through sunlight and burning candles at night. But the first real push for government-regulated daylight saving came at the beginning of the 20th century in England. The idea quickly caught on in America. Prerau, an engineer specializing in artificial intelligence, explains that many patriots thought daylight saving time, which would also save fuel, was crucial to winning WWI. Companies like Colgate found that when they started business an hour earlier in the summer, employees were more energetic. But not everyone was enthusiastic. Farmers opposed it, as did motion-picture makers, reasoning that movie attendance would drop if there were more daylight. In chapter seven, perhaps the most entertaining in this delightfully brisk narrative, the author explains that local option led to “clock confusion”: in Hopkinton, Iowa, banks closed at night on standard time, but opened each morning on daylight saving time, and, as a headline in the St. Paul Pioneer Press proclaimed in 1965, “Clocks In Minneapolis, St. Paul Will Conflict.” Finally, in 1966, Congress passed the Uniform Time Act, which ordained daylight saving time but allowed states to exempt themselves. Still, the topic of time remained one of periodic congressional review—to wit, the Emergency Daylight Saving Act during the 1973 oil embargo—and geopolitics being what it is, may yet arise again. Prerau enlivens his tale with a judicious selection of illustrations, including a cartoon from the Newark News of farmers and suburbanites “gumming up the clock” and wartime propaganda posters that proclaimed, “set the clock one hour ahead and win the war.”
The best kind of history: rigorous and academically informed, but chock-full of lively anecdotes.