Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?


As Daylight Standard Time is restored for the next six months, Jeffrey Rogers Hummel recalls the roots of our semiannual clock-changing ritual. An excerpt:

And in 1976, the Rankin-Bass Act put this guy in charge of everything.

Like so much else the government does, Daylight Saving Time arose during war. Germany, pioneer of so many other forms of modern statism, was the first to impose the practice as an energy saving measure during World War I. Most of the other warring governments, including the United States under the perniciously meddlesome administration of president Woodrow Wilson, soon followed Germany's lead. Considered only an emergency act, Daylight Saving Time was repealed within the U.S. in 1919, over the veto of Wilson, who as an avid golfer wanted to keep the practice permanent. The repeal was supported by Wilson's heroic successor, President Warren G. Harding, who considered Daylight Saving Time a "deception."

During World War II, Congress enacted YEAR-ROUND Daylight Saving Time, again to conserve energy. In September 1945, at the war's end, what was officially designated as "War Time" was again repealed, leaving the practice entirely up to states and localities. This created a patchwork system, in which different states would start or come off Daylight Saving Time on different dates, if at all. As a result, United Airlines reportedly had to publish twenty-seven different time tables each year. So it was the airlines, along with other transportation industries, that lobbied for national uniformity, which was embodied in the federal Uniform Time Act of April 1966.

Elsewhere in Reason: Katherine Mangu-Ward offers some evidence that Daylight Saving Time does not actually save energy. Kerry Howley offers some more. Sam MacDonald mocks a proposal for "double daylight saving time."

Elsewhere not in Reason: Carl Watner argues [pdf] that a much more useful bit of temporal engineering—North America's system of time zones—owes its origins to voluntary cooperation, not state compulsion.

NEXT: Financial Rescue Package Explained

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. I’ve said it elsewhere. The Obama Administration steals an hour from us in the spring just so it can magically return it right in time for the elections, in a naked bid to win votes.

  2. The Kaiser! I knew that sneaky bastard was behind this somehow.

  3. One of the advantages of Daylight Savings Time is that I don’t have to be woken up by the Sun at 3:30 in the morning in mid-summer. It also leaves extra time for outdoor activities after work.

    I’m still pissed off that the Bush Administration changed the days it starts and ends. Screwed up the timer on my VCR really good.

  4. Human beings have be the stupidist species in earth. Nothing–absolutely nothing–government does is any good. Yet everywhere human beings organize themselves into governments. Dogs have packs, and lions have prides, and these social “institutions” function pretty well. But humans have states. Fucking disasters! Daylight Savings Time! Thank God, investigative reporters like Jesse Walker are on the job!

  5. Shut the fuck up, Edward.

  6. Dear Daylight Savings,
    Blow me

    1. Same here — Hawaii.

  7. I say next time we change the time, change it 30 minutes – and leave it alone. Don’t touch it, ever again. This shit got old a LONG time ago.

    1. Or just stop changing it. I don’t even have to go to the other articles to know that it doesn’t save anything. It is no more than a distraction to make people think they are doing something useful

      1. But how will I know when to check the batteries in my smoke detector??

        1. Damn threaded conversations.

  8. I suppose you consider the Time Zone system to be statist, as well.

    This is another issue that shows the limitations of libertarianism. Society cannot operate if every individual is deciding for him or herself what time it is.

    1. Note the last paragraph:

      Elsewhere not in Reason: Carl Watner argues [pdf] that a much more useful bit of temporal engineering — North America’s system of time zones — owes its origins to voluntary cooperation, not state compulsion.

      Hmm. That seems to have worked…

      1. Whoa, I missed that last paragraph. But I would dispute the claims in that typewritten newsletter. The people who were disadvantaged by the time zones (ie, people who lived near the boundaries) did not go along voluntarily, just as farmers didn’t go along voluntarily with DST. Indeed, there are still communities that disobey the time zone legislation (for instance, southeastern Indiana unofficially followed the same time as Cincinnati in contravention of the time zone statute).

        Also note that after DST was returned to local jurisdiction after WW2, it’s not like most of the country stopped observing it. Some did, some didn’t. Like the time zones, the feds stepped in to standardized when there was disagreement that hampered interstate commerce.

        1. If I remember from school, it was the railroads who got together and made time zones to keep their trains from running into each other.

          1. I will just note that no studies have shown trains running into each other to be a bad thing.

            1. In fact, trains running into each other is completely awesome.

  9. I should add that the extension of DST in 2005 was ridiculous and failed to accomplish the energy savings it was supposed to, as extra energy was spent on heat on spring mornings. But the claims of “statism” are simply hyperbole.

    1. Now you are getting it-order does not necessarily flow from “law and order.”

      1. Absolutely. But the fact that some laws are stupid does not mean all laws are “statism”, my racist friend.

  10. Germany may have been the first to impose it, but it was Benjamin Franklin’s idea in 1784. But they didn’t have electricity back then.

    1. Conserving lamp oil and candles?

    2. The original reason offered for DST was that it was morally suspect for people to be sleeping while the sun was up. The energy argument didn’t really show up until the early 1900s.

    3. It was a joke! You don’t think the author of Poor Richard’s Almanack couldn’t make a joke, do you?


    1. Its easier for us to defend ourselves in the daylight. 🙂

  12. For what it’s worth, I like daylight savings time, and I think we should just stay on it all year.

    1. You choose how you want to save your daylight and let Edward and Epi choose how they want to save theirs.

    2. Agreed. Why do they go back to standard time when the days are already getting shorter? It’s depressing enough having only 30 minutes of daylight at the end of the workday. Starting tomorrow it’ll already be dark.

      1. I believe it’s for the kids on their way to school in the morning. But kids don’t walk to school anymore, or even to a bus stop. Most kids get door to door service.

        1. It’s not just the kids. You seriously do not want morning rush hour to be going on in the dark.

          1. Think of how difficult it would be for men to shave and women to put on their make-up in the dark, while driving.

          2. You seriously do not want afternoon rush hour to be going on in the dark.

        2. I lived in Maine when I was a kid. Most of the winter, I had to wait for the bus in the dark anyway.

        3. I always thought the school thing was a wuss excuse, when I was going to school. I thought it would be more convenient to go to school in the dark. Morning rush hour in the dark would be just fine.

      2. The amount of daylight is not affected by daylight saving time, Tim. If they didn’t switch back to standard time in the fall, it would be dark when you go to work in the morning.

        1. Right, and who cares? It’s much better to have light at night.

      3. There is no end of the work day for someone trying to sell libertarianism to the masses.

    3. I, too, would rather that hour of daylight be put on the end of the day all year long.

    4. Whatever happened to getting up an hour earlier… dst is like cutting a foot off the bottom of your blanket and sewing it to the top…

  13. If we didn’t have DST, nobody would ever replace their smoke alarm batteries.

    1. That explains the excess of house fires in Indiana, Arizona, and Hawaii.

      1. Well, it was a joke, but smoke detectors don’t prevent fires.

        1. Wrong. I’ve never had a fire when I had a working smoke detector.

          1. Tulpa, you fool! A smoke detector that prevents fires? What else does it do? Launch nukes at all humans to eradicate the species so that a glorious revolution of machines can take place? You’ve doomed us all!

        2. Smoke detectors could prevent the fire from becoming worse, if they make you aware of it sooner. Your local fire department might even subsidize your 9-volt batteries at taxpayer expense.

          1. And you can use them to arouse your/discipline someone’s taint.

    2. you’re supposed to change them?

      1. unless you’re hard wired, but I gave that up years ago.

      2. Not if, like me, you were so relieved at not having their nuisance once the batteries went dead.

  14. Of all the government actions I’m worried about, DST is at the bottom, slightly above “In God We Trust” on currency.

    Frankly, I PREFER DST, and want the country to abandon Standard Time. Seriously — what’s the justification for Standard Time? People like driving to work in the dark?

    1. Driving home from work, I should have said.

    2. The justification is that there is a fixed amount of daylight, and monkeying around with the clocks does not increase or decrease it a bit.

      If someone wants to change the hours they get up or go to sleep, or a business wants to change their hours, then they can do that without having to resort to DST. And those changes would be voluntary, not mandated by the fucking government.

      All DST does is create a bit of unnecessary extra work for everyone.

      And yes, I’m biased by living in Hawaii, where the absurdity of DST is more evident than elsewhere.

  15. It’s 12:13 over here. Therefore, fuck everyone else, it should be 12:13 for everyone.

    1. I realize this is probably a joke, but why do we need timezones? Why does 6 a.m. have to be in the morning? Why can’t we all just count our hours according to GMT?

  16. I’ve never understood DST. The only way it makes sense is if you insist and getting up at the same time all year long. Screw that, get up when the sun rises. If that’s too difficult for you, then sleep in during the winter. Geez.

    1. You’re forgetting that non-libertarians mostly have those 9-5 jobs. They can’t set their own hours.

  17. I’m with th great Warren G Harding on this one: DST is a deception.If people want an extra hour of sunlight in the afternoon, let them all get up and go to work an hour earlier

  18. Guys, it’s simple.
    Standard time is better in the fall/winter because it means people/kids don’t have to get up in what feels like the middle of the night to go to work/school.

    That’s not an issue in spring/summer so why not move the clock forward to better take advantage of the daylight.
    It gives us humans more daylight time to enjoy life.

    Although I’m pretty libertarian in my beliefs, I will admit when the gov’t gets something right. DST, catalytic converters, and nutrition labels are at least three gov’t mandated things that I like.

    1. So the problem is that decades (centuries?) ago some pinhead chose poorly and the clocks have been an hour off optimum ever since? Get a grip guys.

      1. WTF. My reply to Wart seems to have been placed here…Sorry NAL. On the other hand, I’m not sure you can actually claim to be “pretty libertarian” if you like gov’t mandated catalytic converters, nutrition labels and DST. Man up dude, you’re a progressive.

        1. Can we get beyond the name calling?
          The fact that I agree with a few things the gov’t has done doesn’t make me a progressive. It’s more like I’m recognizing that even a stopped clock is right twice a day.

          BTW, I doubt most progressives would even speak to me if they knew I voted for Ron Paul; I opposed the stimulus package (both of them), the bailout, the auto bailout and I vehemently oppose Obamacare.

          1. Progressives will talk to anybody, they’re disgustingly promiscuous. And I think they’ve turned your head. You’ve lost that certain dismissive je ne sais quoi that libertarians must possess, in lieu of sympathy for the poor unfortunates that suck from the tit of state.

  19. DST is stupid. When I lived in Couer d Alene Idaho, summers had daylight from 4:45 a.m. until 10:00 pm and winters had day light like from 7:00 am until 5:00 p.m. So fucking around with an hour didn’t help at all.
    Thank god they don’t have it here in Arizona.
    I think there should just be one time. Let it be noon in Greenich England. Yeah, “high noon” might be 9:00 p.m. but I think after a while peole would get use to it and it would make things a lot simpler.

    1. When I lived in Couer d Alene Idaho, summers had daylight from 4:45 a.m. until 10:00 pm and winters had day light like from 7:00 am until 5:00 p.m.

      No, you didn’t.

      On the longest day of the year, Couer d’Alene has sunrise at 4:53 and sunset at 8:01. On the shortest day, sunrise at 7:30 and sunset at about 4:00.

      1. Much of the discrepancy can be attributed to the difference between daylight times (including twilight) and sunrise-sunset times. In June 2009 in Coeur d’Alene civil twilight began at 4:08 AM and ended at 8:48 PM. Basically 4AM to 9PM. (See http://www.sunrisesunset.com/calendar.asp) I’m not sure whether these times are DST since the web site is not clear on this issue, if not then DST times are 5AM to 10PM.

        1. twilight is not daylight. And we’re talking about one day of the summer and one day of the winter, not the entire season as Troy was suggesting.

          Yes, June 21 and Dec 21 are going to be weird as far as hours of daylight are concerned, regardless of whether you have DST or not. That’s not the point; when you look at the average over the full season DST makes more sense.

          1. Neither is it night as far as the FAA is concerned. And you chose the one day pal. And you got it mostly wrong and Troy got it mostly right with regard to hours of daylight. So, if the point is not June 21 or Dec 21 why’d you raise the red herring dude? And, finally, if gettin’ up with the sun is the measure of the efficacy of DST then you get minimal benefit at equinoxes and maximum benefit at the solstices. If the days surrounding your maximum benefit don’t count, WTF does?

      2. You should figure in civil twilight rather than just sunrise/sunset.Troy is stil mistaken about how late it was light though.

      3. give me a break, that was a long time ago. But the point still remains… fucking with an hour was a waste off time.

      4. but hey, thanks for looking it up…

  20. Won’t someone think of poor Alaska? Quick, send them some government daylight for their bitter winters.

  21. Alaska is already an extra hour ahead, year round. Supposedly for economical reasons.

  22. I really don’t care that much about this DST debate one way or the other, but what bugs me is that last night the bar didn’t give us the extra hour before kicking us out. They usually start kicking people out at about 2:15 (legally, alcohol cannot be sold after 2:30) but last night when 2:00 PDT became 1:00 PST we should have had another hour to finish getting drunk.

    1. I’ve been trying that trick for years, no bartender wants to work an hour on a saturday night.

      1. I used to live in south Lousiana and they would absolutely move the clock back and stay open the extra hour.

  23. I was always under the impression that DST was a farming thing; to enable kids to get some farming chores done before and after school. I guess my teachers were douchebags.

    1. Farmers were actually the most ferocious opponents of DST. Well, them and the wolverines.

  24. Daylight savings time costs the economy in lost productivity due to disruptions in circadian rhythms. It takes around three weeks for the body to get back into a normal rhythm, during which time, your productivity in the morning drops.

    Sleep researchs know this pretty well and pretty much hate the practice. But nobody listens to them.

    1. As someone who wakes up at least an hour “off” from day to day for college, I find this hard to believe.

      After all, the person that wakes up the same time Saturday and Wednesday is pretty hard to find in the first place.

  25. Israeli forces storm into holiest place on earth:


    1. Stone throwing savages needed some behavior education by the good guys.

  26. “Does anyone know what time it is?”

    Yes. When the Sun reaches it’s highest point, i.e. is directly overhead it’s local noon. How hard is that?

    1. The sun is never directly overhead, ever, anywhere in the Continental U.S.

      You have to live in the tropics for that to happen, and then it only happens two days a year. (One if you’re exactly on the Tropic of Cancer or Capricorn.)

      1. Here’s how the tropic topic was taught to me: Within the tropics, at or below the tropic of cancer and at or above the tropic of capricorn, the sun will be directly overhead at noon on two days during the year. The exact two days for any location will be six months apart, and vary according to the location’s distance from the equator. At the equator, the sun will be directly above your head at noon on the equinoxes in March and September.

        1. Almost right. The spacing of the sun-overhead days will vary depending on latitude. A point just south of the tropic of Cancer will have the sun directly overhead on two consecutive days. On the equator it will happen 6 months apart.

  27. Am I the only one who wonders why the government just doesn’t print more daylight?

    1. Exactly, I mean they can legislate what the Earth’s temperature’s supposed to be, why not just tack-on legislation mandating how long the sun can be up?

  28. Switching back to the standard time is pretty much my favorite day of the year. Mathematically it probably doesn’t make a hell of a difference in the grand scheme of things, but psychology it’s like getting high to wake up and realize you still have an entire hour extra to go back to sleep. It’s my favorite brain trick ever.

  29. As Daylight Standard Time is restored for the next six months
    You flunked counting Jesse, you’re going to have to repeat kindergarten.

  30. Just like most things legislated such as morals, the mere idea that politicians think they can somehow give or take away daylight is fucking nuts. Just goes to show how government thinks it can solve anything including the amount of time the sun is overhead. Much like them thinking they can actually outlaw a PLANT! Just saying it is so does not make it so dumbasses.

  31. We should set all clocks to midnight based on the physical reaction of feeding Gremlins and leave it at that forever. No use taking chances with those little fuckers.

    1. Funniest thing I’ve read all week. 😀

  32. Let’s see if the LP can put a DST policy in the platform so the Radicals and Reformers will have one more thing to fight over.

  33. “Like so much else the government does, Daylight Saving Time arose during war.” Never truer words were written. Reading a recent Civil War history, I was struck by how much stronger the federal government becomes during wartime, whether it’s our current conflicts or WWI, and how those newly “found” powers never recede when the conflict does.

  34. As of the 2005 extension, every seven years the DST change gives me an extra hour to party on Halloween. Good enough for me.

  35. I really wish we had daylight savings time over here in SE Asia. It gets dark just too early in the evening.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.