A little backgroundDavid Hoppe

Daylight-saving time has been played like a melody in a minor key throughout this legislative session. Not that certain politicians, our new governor most of all, haven't wanted to pump it up into something like a Souza march. For them, the adoption of a law compelling us to reset our clocks every spring and fall, to "spring ahead and fall back," has been touted as a key to economic vitality and jobs. But even more important has been the very idea of a time change. Clearly, for some people, switching to daylight-saving time is a symbol, a way of proving to ourselves that Indiana is actually capable of making a change. Franklin was in Paris, representing America to the French court. Although he was 78 years old, Franklin loved to party - it was his job, after all - and was accustomed to sleeping until noon. So much for early bed, early to rise. Anyway, one night Franklin's servant forget to close the curtains after Franklin turned in ...

For all the talk, though, very little has actually been reported about the origins and history of daylight-saving time. Turns out that DST, like everything else in the world, from head lice to honeysuckle, is attached to a string of interesting facts. Once you start tugging on that string it's remarkable what you'll find.

Benjamin Franklin apparently gets credit for first planting the DST seed. At the time, Franklin was in Paris, representing America to the French court. Although he was 78 years old, Franklin loved to party - it was his job, after all - and was accustomed to sleeping until noon. So much for early to bed, early to rise. Anyway, one night Franklin's servant forgot to close the curtains after Franklin turned in ...

"An accidental sudden noise waked me about six in the morning," Franklin wrote. "I was surprised to find my room filled with light. I imagined at first that a number of lamps had been brought into the room; but rubbing my eyes I perceived the light came in at the windows."

Franklin checked a clock and found that it was 6 in the morning. He found the fact that the sun could be so bright so early so remarkable that he made a point of getting up at 6 for the next three days. Sure enough, the sun was blazing away on all three mornings.

It occurred to Franklin that by getting up at noon he was losing six hours of sunlight each day. Those six hours, he figured, were made up in the evening, during which time everyone burned candles. Candles weren't cheap. Franklin went on to calculate that families in Paris spent about 128,100,000 hours by candlelight every year at a total cost of what today would be the equivalent of around $200 million. "It is impossible," wrote Franklin, with his tongue only halfway in his cheek, "that so sensible a people, under such circumstances, should have lived so long by the smoky, unwholesome and enormously expensive light of candles, if they had really known that they might have had as much pure light of the sun for nothing."

Franklin became the first person to propose that the government use its power to make human activity line up with available daylight.

Daylight-saving time was adopted in Europe during World War I as a way of conserving fuel. The U.S. followed suit in 1918 for seven months, but the law was repealed in 1919.

President Roosevelt reinstituted DST during World War II. He called it "War Time." It lasted until 1945. From then until 1966, states and localities could do whatever they wanted about time, which created lots of headaches for broadcasters and the transportation industry. In 1966, the Uniform Time Act established uniform DST within each time zone throughout the U.S., but state Legislatures were allowed to opt out. Most of the Legislatures went along - Indiana did not.

DST has been used as a tool to save energy. In 1974, President Nixon responded to the Arab Oil Embargo by signing the Emergency Daylight Saving Time Energy Conservation Act. Clocks were set ahead for 15 months. The Department of Energy estimated that this saved roughly 600,000 barrels of oil in each of the two years the act was in place. When President Reagan signed a law changing the beginning of DST from the last Sunday in April to the first Sunday in April in 1986, it was estimated that this saved 300,000 barrels of oil each year.

It is estimated that 70 countries utilize DST. The only industrialized country that does not is Japan, where farmers have opposed it, as has the Ministry of Education, which takes the position that more sunlight in the evening will keep students from their studies.

Robertson Davies, the Canadian author, shares the Japanese aversion to DST. He has written: "At the back of the Daylight Saving scheme I detect the bony, blue-fingered hand of Puritanism, eager to push people into bed earlier, and get them up earlier, to make them healthy, wealthy and wise in spite of themselves."

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