First National Daylight Savings Time in the U.S. 

U.S. #86 – An 1868 Franklin “E” Grill.

On March 31, 1918, daylight savings time went into effect for the first time in the United States.

Long before modern societies adopted daylight savings time, ancient civilizations based their activities around the Sun. The Romans used water clocks with scales that changed for different times of the year.

As early as 1784 Benjamin Franklin promoted the idea of adjusting schedules to coincide with the Sun’s light. In his 1784 satirical essay, “An Economical Project for the Diminishing the Cost of Light,” Franklin jokingly suggested that the people of Paris could use fewer candles if they woke up earlier.

U.S. #3762 from the American Design Series.

The first official proposal for something similar to daylight savings time came in 1895. New Zealand scientist George Vernon Hudson proposed that clocks shift two hours forward in October and two hours backward in March. While there was some support for this idea, it never materialized.

A decade later, British builder William Willett had his own idea. He suggested that clocks be moved ahead 20 minutes on the four Sundays in April, and then switch back the same way in September. Willett’s proposal eventually reached Parliament but was never made into law.

U.S. #685 was issued just four months after Taft’s death in 1930.

In America, President William Howard Taft encouraged the passage of a June 1909 bill for his home city of Cincinnati, Ohio, to become the first city in America to adopt daylight savings time. On May 1, 1910, clocks in the city were set ahead one hour and would then fall back one hour on October 1.

Then in 1916, as the world was embroiled in war, many nations recognized the need to save fuel for electricity. Germany and Austria were the first to adopt a daylight savings program when they moved their clocks ahead one hour at 11:00 p.m. on April 30, 1916. Several other nations quickly followed suit that year and the year after.

U.S. #697 was based on a photo of Wilson taken during his second term in office.

Pennsylvania industrialist Robert Garland was visiting the United Kingdom and learned of this concept, which was then known as “fast time.” He returned to America and proposed its adoption.   President Woodrow Wilson approved the idea and it was signed into law on March 19, 1918. America first entered daylight savings time later that month, on March 31, 1918. America observed daylight savings time for seven months that year and the next. But with the war over, it grew unpopular and was repealed. Many other nations also abandoned daylight savings time after the war, though Canada, the United Kingdom, and France continued to use it, as well as a few American cities.

U.S. #1305 from the Prominent Americans Series.

As America entered another war in the 1940s, the idea of daylight savings time reemerged. President Franklin Roosevelt signed legislation instituting year-round daylight savings time, also called “War Time,” beginning in February 1942. This remained in effect until the war ended in 1945.

For 20 years there were no more laws concerning daylight savings, which created significant confusion, particularly for travelers and broadcasters. Then Congress passed the Uniform Time Act of 1966. This law stated that daylight savings time would begin on the last Sunday of April and end the last Sunday of October, though states could pass an ordinance to be exempt from it. In the decades since there have been changes to the law, so that now in America daylight savings time begins on the second Sunday in March and ends on the first Sunday in November.

Click here to read the first two American daylight savings time acts.

Click here to see what else happened on This Day in History.

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    1. Personally, I love daylight savings time. I like the time in the late afternoon and evening to do yardwork, ride my bicycle, take my dogs for a walk, etc. Daylight at 5:00 A.M. or so is a waste.

  1. Maybe this one has out served its usefulness. Someone always has better use of that hour. In Texas, our legislature is in the process of making this procedure go away by setting the time and leaving it there in the future. Personally, I can find better exercises than changing clocks. Changing clocks just moves the hours of daylight and dark. I’d rather have the hour in the evening. More time to work on my stamps.

  2. I believe Arizona and Hawaii do not observe Daylight Savings Time nor does the Navajo Reservastion.

    1. When I first moved to the Indianapolis area we did not use DST and it was difficult with everybody changing around you. Then they started DST about 10 years ago and I think I liked it better before.
      Studies have stated that energy costs have actually went up because of DST and the farmers also do not like is because they work sun up to sun down and not by the clock.

  3. I hate DST. If people want to get up an hour earlier, they can set their alarms ahead one hour. It should be optional. Where I work, we have flextime, so people can come in earlier and leave sooner, or come in later and depart later.
    By the way, in the last sentence of the last paragraph, you need to capitalize “March.” Great article as always. Thanks for the informal education.

      1. While you are fixing things, in paragraph 7 it says Germany and Australia went on DST in 1916. Shouldn’t that be Austria, not Australia? Or is it an incredible coincidence? Thanks for the great This Day in History posts!

  4. I understand what I just read but I always thought it was to help farmers but never knew how it would.

  5. It may have made sense at the time, but times have changed (no pun intended) and we certainly shouldn’t try to fool with mother nature! Forget “daylight saving time”, it’s just a pain for everyone. Next time we fall back, we should stay back and never spring forward again!

  6. Noon is when the sun reaches it’s highest elevation wherever one is each day and midnight occurs at that same point twelve hours later a fact that will never change. One should never squander even one second of daylight because the supply of well-lit seconds is finite for all of God’s creatures. Saving daylight is to use and enjoy all of it from sunrise to sunset. Before and even during one’s retirement, many of us have to use far too much artificial daylight creating “day” with electricity. I prefer God’s natural light. I treasure it. It’s golden.

  7. Good catch by Fritz on the Germany and Australia issue. It occurred to me that in order to accomplish the objective of maximizing sunlight to coincide with time the opposite procedure should occur in Australia. Do they spring back and fall forward in the southern hemisphere?

  8. I never have understood what the big deal is.
    What is so hard about it? Don’t you enjoy an
    extra hour of sleep in Fall ? And who does not
    enjoy an extra hour of sunlight in Spring.
    Lighten up people — Collect More Stamps

    1. I like getting out of work when it’s dark. It’s one of the sensory perceptions that make autumn and winter what they are.

    2. I’m with you on that. To hear some of these people whine, you’d think it was like getting a colonoscopy.

  9. The correct term is “daylight saving time,” since we are supposed to be saving daylight time. In any case, the article is very enjoyable.

  10. I think the USA should all go to the same time zone; like China. This whole thing of turning clocks back and ahead while some places stay the same is getting ridiculous if you ask me. Arizona, where I live, stays on standard time, so every six months or so we must rearrange our meetings to coincide with the East Coast; it’s just stupid. It gets very confusing and I’d like to see it end. After all…what good is it really? Like I said, I say the entire CONUS goes to the same time zone and leaves it there; no more changing.

  11. Recently had a conversation with a person that said how neat it was that by switching to DST we moved the Sun to a different place in the sky for the same time of day. I truly wish I could say it was a 3rd grader that hadn’t quite grasped the concept yet. But this person was out of college. :-/

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