Daylight Saving Time has Always Been a Mess

Amy Shira Teitel
8 min readNov 8, 2022

I hate the Daylight Saving time change, and odds are, you do, too. That extra hour of sleep in the fall is lovely, but shifting your body clock is a huge pain. There’s even evidence that the lost hour in spring is a health hazard; hospitals have reported a rise in heart attacks and traffic accidents in the days after we spring forward. If no one likes it and it’s dangerous, why do we do it? Contrary to persistent myth, it has nothing to do with farmers or trains. It’s all about energy conservation, war, and consummerism.

The idea behind the time change is simple: make daylight hours line up with people’s work and life activities to conserve resources and save money. The benefit has been obvious for a long time. Benjamin Franklin once calculated that the city of Paris could save millions of pounds of candlewax yearly if the time shifted to give people more daylight hours. But the first recorded proper proposal to change clocks to came from entomologist George Vernon Hudson. In 1895, he pitched the idea of an annual two-hour time shift to the Royal Society of New Zealand, but no one went for it.

William Willet. National Musems of Scotland.

A little over a decade later, in 1907, British construction magnate William Willett proposed a worse version of the time shift: an 80-minute change in April and October. This “Summer Time” proposal, outlined in a pamphlet titled “The Waste of Daylight,” became a passionate mission for Willet, who spent years promoting more daylight recreation time. The idea got to Parliament but was never passed into law. He died in 1915, his dream unfulfilled.

The front page of “The Waste of Daylight.” National Museums Scotland.

A year later, his idea came to fruition, but not in his home country. The first country to change the clocks forward was Germany; they shifted forward one hour on April 30, 1916. But it had nothing to do with recreation. The First World War was consuming Europe, and Germany wanted the added daylight to help conserve energy and allow for more…

Amy Shira Teitel

Historian and author of Fighting for Space (February 2020) from Grand Central Publishing. Also public speaker, TV personality, and YouTuber. [The Vintage Space]