If you’re like me (and not living in Arizona, Hawaii, U.S. insular areas of Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, Guam, or most places near the equator), you’re still lamenting the hour lost this past weekend due to Daylight Saving Time (and will be for the next week. Or two).
So if you want to know who to blame, here it is: Kaiser Wilhelm II.
While Benjamin Franklin (starting in 1784) and British builder William Willett (beginning in 1907) were the first champions of daylight saving time measures, Germany was the first to actually adopt it on April 6, 1916, as a wartime measure. Other European countries—and eventually the United States—followed suit.
The U.S. initially took a not-so-fast approach, however. The New York Times characterized daylight saving time as “the Kaiser’s Trick Hour.” The Saturday Evening Post mused, “Why not ‘save summer’ by having June begin at the end of February?” But ultimately, America’s involvement in World War I prompted similar calls to benefit the war effort, and the U.S. adopted a national DST measure on March 19, 1918.
All of this is according to David Prerau SM ’66, PhD ’70, one of the world’s foremost authorities on DST and author of Seize the Daylight: The Curious and Contentious Story of Daylight Saving Time (Thunder’s Mouth Press, 2005). And yes, that’s Saving, singular, not plural. I can personally vouch for the book. It’s a fascinating look at time.
And why does DST go down at 2:00 a.m.? Because in 1918, that was the time at which the fewest trains were running and would create the least confusion. One final bit of trivia: When clocks jump ahead, trains are instantly an hour behind schedule but they do their best to make up time. In the fall, when clocks are set back one hour, any Amtrak train running on time has to stop and wait one hour before resuming. So passengers in sleeper cars could wake to find their train at a dead stop—and their trip one hour longer than expected.