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How DST Sprang Forward – And Fell Back

It took nearly 100 years of experimentation, but Daylight Saving Time is here to stay.

This 1918 ad recalls the introduction of daylight savings as a means of conserving the fuel needed for troops in World War I.

This 1918 ad recalls the introduction of daylight savings as a means of conserving the fuel needed for troops in World War I.

Most people don’t realize it, but this month’s ballot has greater significance than whether or not the Democrats retain control of Congress. It will be the first time that a midterm election has taken place during Daylight Saving Time (DST), which ends five days later.

Why significant? Because many political strategists believe the extra hour of daylight will mean that tens of thousands of more voters will go to the polls when they arrive home from work.

Ever since the U.S. launched DST in 1918 as a way of conserving the fuel needed to fight World War I, daylight saving has been a sometimes-bitter bone of contention. Shortly after the war ended, President Woodrow Wilson twice vetoed a bill to discontinue DST, but was finally overridden by an angry Congress. (Wilson, an avid golfer, apparently figured it would give him an extra hour on the links after a day in the Oval Office.)

Between the wars, DST was a matter of choice for cities and states, but when the nation entered World War II in 1941, it once more became the law of the land. After the war, control of the system again reverted to individual regions, leading to mass confusion, as it had in the 1920s and ’30s. At various times in the 1950s, Boston and New York were not even in the same time zone as Baltimore and Washington, D.C., and in one area, motorists passed through seven time zones in less than 40 miles!

Finally, in 1966, the Uniform Time Act standardized the length of DST as six months (“Spring forward, Fall back!”). Twenty years later, four more weeks were added, and in 2007 it was extended to a full eight months, from the second Sunday in March to the first Sunday in November.

Though still opposed by some diehards, support of daylight saving has increased dramatically during the past quarter-century. Its proponents include transportation officials, who say DST saves more than two million barrels of oil a year, and the police, who claim that fewer burglaries and car accidents take place when evening hours are extended. Since 2007, it has even come to the aid of Halloween, giving kids an extra hour to go trick-or-treating in daylight.

Read the entire article in the November 2010 issue