The Switching Hour: 14 Times People Advocated For or Rejected Daylight Saving Time

Jeff J Mitchell, Getty Images
Jeff J Mitchell, Getty Images

If there's anything guaranteed in life, it's that people will complain about daylight saving time. Critics argue it startles the circadian rhythm and increases the risk of heart attack, causes car accidents, and doesn't have many meaningful energy-saving benefits. But the alternatives are hardly perfect: If we make daylight saving time year-round, children in Michigan could wait for the school bus in pitch darkness. And if we nix daylight saving time altogether, New Yorkers could watch the summer sun set at 7:30 p.m. (And that's on the longest day of the year!)

Since there's no winning here, there's always a lot of whining. Here's a brief timeline.

1. BENJAMIN FRANKLIN COMPLAINS ABOUT ALL THE WASTEFUL NIGHT OWLS // 1784

A pocketwatch and picture of Benjamin Franklin
iStock.com, Homiel

A lot of people credit Benjamin Franklin with the idea of daylight saving time, but the claim is a stretch. Franklin believed it was ridiculous—and wasteful—that people slept through morning daylight only to burn candles late at night. In a facetious letter to the editor of The Journal of Paris, he took a potshot at night owls and proposed that everybody wake up at the stroke of dawn, with church bells and cannons acting as society's 6 a.m. alarm: No turning back the clocks necessary!

2. NEW ZEALAND RAILROADS EXPERIMENT WITH STANDARD TIME // 1868

An 1877 lithograph by W.D. Bletchley of Lyttelton Harbour, an inlet in Banks Peninsula on the coast of Canterbury, New Zealand.
An 1877 lithograph by W.D. Bletchley of Lyttelton Harbour, an inlet in Banks Peninsula on the coast of Canterbury, New Zealand.
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

Before the concept of standard time, clocks were pegged to the motions of the sun—and that meant noon in one town could arrive minutes before noon in a town 100 miles west. For telegraph and railroad operators, this would become incredibly cumbersome. So New Zealand's telegraph department instituted "Wellington mean time," and later that year, their parliament established a consistent time for the whole country. In 1883, railroads in the United States did the same, establishing five standard time zones. People immediately realized that standardization could lead to unusually dark mornings or nights.

3. AN ENTOMOLOGIST ADVOCATES FOR AFTER-WORK DAYLIGHT HOURS // 1895

A drawing of the adult and larvae stage of Pericoptus truncatus, sourced from the book New Zealand Beetles and their Larvae by George Vernon Hudson.
A drawing of the adult and larvae stage of Pericoptus truncatus, sourced from the book New Zealand Beetles and their Larvae by George Vernon Hudson.
George Vernon Hudson, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Realizing that standard time also has its downsides, an entomologist named George Hudson proposed a modern version of daylight saving time, hoping an extra hour of light could help him collect more insects. An abstract showed that nearly everyone hated the idea: "Mr. Hudson's original suggestions were wholly unscientific and impracticable … It was out of the question to think of altering a system that had been in use for thousands of years, and found by experience to be the best. The paper was not practical."

4. A BRIT TRIES THE "WASTE NOT, WANT NOT" ARGUMENT FOR MORE USABLE DAYLIGHT HOURS // 1907

British builder William Willett, circa 1900.
British builder William Willett, circa 1900.
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

William Willett, an English builder, proposed daylight saving in a pamphlet entitled The Waste of Daylight, writing, "Nearly everyone has given utterance to a regret that the clear bright light of early mornings, during Spring and Summer months, is so seldom seen or used." He suggested moving the clocks by 80 minutes. A few supporters in Parliament tried to advance the cause for "British Summer Time," but each bill flopped again and again.

5. WARTIME FUEL RATIONING MAKES DAYLIGHT SAVING A MONEY ISSUE // 1916

A Greenwich Mean Time notice in 1916 informs the British public of a change in time as clocks go back an hour during the first year of the daylight saving scheme.
A Greenwich Mean Time notice in 1916 informs the British public of a change in time as clocks go back an hour during the first year of the daylight saving scheme.
Topical Press Agency, Getty Images

In April 1916, Germany started observing daylight saving time in an effort to save fuel. One month later, Britain copied them. (By extending the evening daylight, British industries burned significantly less coal, which was in short supply because of World War I.) The United States and much of Europe followed.

6. CONGRESS OVERRIDES A PRESIDENTIAL VETO IN ORDER TO GET RID OF DST // 1919

A man sits in the driver seat of the first Ford tractor, circa 1920.
A man sits in the driver seat of the first Ford tractor, circa 1920.
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

Contrary to popular belief, daylight saving did not benefit America's farming class. "The agriculture industry was deeply opposed to the time switch," according to HISTORY. "[H]ired hands worked less since they still left at the same time for dinners and cows weren't ready to be milked an hour earlier to meet shipping schedules." Once the war was over, Congress eagerly repealed daylight saving time. President Woodrow Wilson vetoed the repeal, but a strong opposition in Congress overrode his veto.

7. AFTER THE WAR, AMERICAN TIME ZONES BECOME A FREE-FOR-ALL // 1920s

A family plays in the water in 1922.
Topical Press Agency, Getty Images

After World War I, American localities were free to choose whether to continue changing the clocks or not. "What followed was a time of chaos, when municipalities were free to set clocks according to their preferences," according to TIME. "In Colorado, for example, Fort Collins and other cities fell back to standard time, while Denver stuck with daylight saving. Colorado hotels had to keep two clocks in their lobbies: one for Denver time, and one for the rest of the state."

8. BRITAIN DOUBLES DOWN BECAUSE OF ANOTHER WAR // 1942

A British servicewoman sunbathing in her swimsuit and uniform cap, circa 1942.
A British servicewoman sunbathing in her swimsuit and uniform cap, circa 1942.
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

Shortly after Franklin D. Roosevelt signed a declaration of war, he instituted "War Time," a year-long form of daylight saving intended to provide extra daylight for war industries. In Britain, clocks were turned ahead two hours—what was called "Double Summer Time."

9. ANOTHER WAR ENDS, ANOTHER CHAOTIC TIME ZONE FRENZY ENSUES // 1945

Farm laborers returning home at the end of a day, July 1947.
Farm laborers returning home at the end of a day, July 1947.
J. Wilds/Keystone Features/Hulton Archive, Getty Images

After "War Time" ended, some localities continued to honor the summer time shift and turned the clock whenever they pleased. For the next two decades, chaos reigned. According to HISTORY: "In 1965 there were 23 different pairs of start and end dates in Iowa alone … Passengers on a 35-mile bus ride from Steubenville, Ohio, to Moundsville, West Virginia, passed through seven time changes." Finally, in 1966, the Uniform Time Act solved the problem by establishing a nationwide daylight saving period.

10. ARIZONA REFUSES TO PARTICIPATE // 1967

The moon sets over sandstone formations near Round Rock, Arizona.
David McNew, Getty Images

Not everybody was happy. Almost immediately, Arizona—a state that is, admittedly, not lacking sunshine—exempted itself from daylight saving time. (Politicians in Phoenix and Tucson argued that an extra hour of sunlight would actually drain energy, forcing businesses to run their cooling systems for longer.) Michigan joined the southern state's dissent, but voters there reversed that decision in 1972.

11. ANOTHER FUEL CRISIS, ANOTHER TIME SHIFT // 1974

A Texaco petrol station in New York City, circa June 1979.
A Texaco petrol station in New York City, circa June 1979.
Brian Alpert/Keystone/Hulton Archive, Getty Images

The oil crisis prompted Congress to enact the Emergency Daylight Saving Time Energy Conservation Act, which would have extended daylight saving for 16 months. According to NPR, "The Department of Transportation says the equivalent of 100,000 barrels of oil each day was saved." But critics disagreed: "This decision did not soften the blow of the OPEC oil embargo, but it did put school children on pitch-black streets every morning," author Michael Downing wrote in The New York Times in 2005. After only eight months, the government reluctantly returned to standard time.

12. RETAIL STORES WANT MORE DAYLIGHT BECAUSE IT INCREASES SHOPPING HOURS // 1986

Customers jostle to get the best crockery bargains on the first day of the Harrod's sale in 1988.
Customers jostle to get the best crockery bargains on the first day of the Harrod's sale in 1988.
Fox Photos/Hulton Archive, Getty Images

After much lobbying, the Chamber of Commerce convinced congress to add an extra (seventh) month of daylight saving time in an effort to encourage shopping. In an interview with NPR, Downing said, "[T]he golf industry alone … told Congress one additional month of daylight saving was worth $200 million in additional sales of golf clubs and greens fees." But not every industry was a winner. Candy manufacturers pushed to extend daylight saving time past Halloween in hopes the extra daylight would boost trick-or-treat sales. Industry lobbyists went as far as to "put candy pumpkins on the seat of every senator, hoping to win a little favor," Downing said, but they failed to get their way.

13. CALI AND THE SUNSHINE STATE WANT MORE SUNSHINE // 2016

A man watching a sunset.
Joe Raedle, Getty Images

California assembly member Kansen Chu proposed eliminating daylight saving time (or, alternatively, adopting it year-round). The measure was adopted two years later; at the same time, the Florida Senate approved the "Sunshine Protection Act," which would make daylight saving time all year. Both laws await federal approval.

14. THE E.U. IS DEBATING A DST-EXIT // 2018

Berlin's landmark TV tower (the Fernsehturm) is pictured at sundown.
Andreas Rentz, Getty Images

In a survey by the European Commission, more than 80 percent of 4.6 million respondents claim they would prefer it if daylight saving time lasted year-round. The European Union is now actively considering whether to stop turning back to standard time—returning Europe back to where it started before World War I, a century ago.

Why Beatrix Potter Ended Up Self-Publishing The Tale of Peter Rabbit

Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The Tale of Peter Rabbit was Beatrix Potter’s first book—and is still her best known. But had the beloved author not had the confidence to publish the book on her own terms, we might not have ever known her name (or Peter Rabbit's) today.

The origin of Peter Rabbit dates back in 1893, when Potter wrote the beginnings of what would become her iconic children’s book in a letter she sent to Noel Moore, the ailing five-year-old son of Annie Carter Moore, Potter's friend and former governess. “I don't know what to write to you, so I shall tell you a story about four little rabbits whose names were—Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail and Peter,” the story began.

According to The Telegraph, it was Carter Moore who encouraged Potter to turn her story and its illustrations into a book. Initially, she attempted to go the traditional route and sent the book to six publishers, each of whom rejected it because Potter was insistent that the book be small enough for a child to hold while the publishers wanted something bigger (so that they could charge more money for it). It wasn't a compromise that Potter was willing to make, so she took the matter into her own hands.

On December 16, 1901, a 35-year-old Potter used her personal savings to privately print 250 copies of The Tale of Peter Rabbit. The book turned out to be a hit—so much so that, within a year, Frederick Warne and Co. (one of the publishers that had originally rejected the book) signed on to get into the Peter Rabbit business. In October 1902, they published their own version of The Tale of Peter Rabbit, complete with Potter's illustrations, and by Christmastime it had sold 20,000 copies. It has since been translated into nearly 40 different languages and sold more than 45 million copies.

In August 1903, Frederick Warne and Co. published Potter's next book, The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin. A few months later, Warne published The Tailor of Gloucester, which Potter had originally self-published in 1902 for reasons similar to her decision to self-publish The Tale of Peter Rabbit.

"She was very dogmatic about what she wanted it to look like and couldn’t agree with Warne," rare book dealer Christiaan Jonkers told The Guardian about why Potter self-published The Tailor of Gloucester. "Also he wanted cuts, so she published 500 copies privately. By the end of the year Warne had given in, cementing a relationship that would save the publishing house from bankruptcy, and revolutionize the way children's books were marketed and sold."

Mental Floss is partnering with the Paper & Packaging – How Life Unfolds® “15 Pages A Day” reading initiative to make sure that everyone has the opportunity (and time) to take part in The Mental Floss Book Club. It’s easy! Take the pledge at howlifeunfolds.com/15pages.

15 Fascinating Facts About Beatrix Potter

Getty Images
Getty Images

Even today, more than 75 years after her death on December 22, 1943, celebrated children’s author Beatrix Potter's beautifully illustrated tales—featuring animals and landscapes inspired by her beloved home in England’s Lake District—are still hugely popular. Below are 15 fascinating facts about The Tale of Peter Rabbit author.

1. Beatrix wasn't Potter's real first name.

Potter was born in London on July 28, 1866 and was actually christened Helen after her mother, but was known by her more unusual middle name: Beatrix.

2. The Tale of Peter Rabbit was inspired by a letter.

The first edition of The Tale of Peter Rabbit.
Aleph-bet books via Wikimedia // Public Domain

Potter’s most famous book, The Tale of Peter Rabbit , was inspired by an illustrated letter Potter wrote to Noel, the son of her former governess, Annie, in 1893. She later asked to borrow the letter back and copied the pictures and story, which she then adapted to create the much-loved tale.

3. Peter Rabbit and her friends were partly based on Beatrix Potter's own pets.

Peter was modeled on Potter’s own pet rabbit, Peter Piper—a cherished bunny who Potter frequently sketched and took for walks on a leash. Potter's first pet rabbit, Benjamin Bouncer, was the inspiration for Benjamin Bunny, Peter's cousin in her books. Potter loved sketching Benjamin, too. In 1890, after a publisher purchased some of her sketchers of Benjamin, she decided to reward him with some hemp seeds. "The consequence being that when I wanted to draw him next morning he was intoxicated and wholly unmanageable," she later wrote in her diary.

4. Potter’s house was essentially a menagerie.


Riversdale Estate, Flickr // Public Domain

Potter kept a whole host of pets in her schoolroom at home—rabbits, hedgehogs, frogs, and mice. She would capture wild mice and let them run loose. When she needed to recapture them she would shake a handkerchief until the wild mice would emerge to fight the imagined foe and promptly be scooped up and caged. When her brother Bertram went off to boarding school he left a pair of long-eared pet bats behind. The animals proved difficult to care for so Potter set one free, but the other, a rarer specimen, she dispatched with chloroform then set about stuffing for her collection.

5. Peter Rabbit wasn’t an immediate success.

Potter self-published the Tale of Peter Rabbit in 1901, funding the print run of 250 herself after being turned down by several commercial publishers. In 1902 the book was republished by Frederick Warne & Co after Potter agreed to redo her black-and-white illustrations in color. By the end of its first year in print, it was in so much demand it had to be reprinted six times.

6. Beatrix Potter understood the power of merchandising.

In 1903 Potter, recognizing the merchandising opportunities offered by her success, made her own Peter Rabbit doll, which she registered at the Patent Office. A Peter Rabbit board game and wallpaper were also produced in her lifetime.

7. Potter was a naturalist at a time when most women weren’t.

Potter was fascinated by nature and was constantly recording the world around her in her drawings. Potter was especially interested in fungi and became an accomplished scientific illustrator, going on to write a paper , “On the Germination of the Spores of Agaricineae, ” proposing her own theory for how fungi spores reproduced. The paper was presented on Potter’s behalf by the Assistant Director of Kew Gardens at a meeting of the Linnean Society on April 1, 1897, which Potter was unable to attend because at that time women were not allowed at meetings of the all-male Linnean Society—even if their work was deemed good enough to be presented.

8. Potter sometimes wrote in secret code.

Between 1881 and 1897 Potter kept a journal in which she jotted down her private thoughts in a secret code . This code was so fiendishly difficult it was not cracked and translated until 1958.

9. Potter was reportedly a disappointment to her mom.


Wikimedia // Public Domain

Despite her huge success, Potter was something of a disappointment to her mother, who had wanted a daughter to accompany her on social calls and make an advantageous marriage. In 1905 Potter accepted the marriage proposal of her publisher Norman Warne. However, her parents were very against the match as they did not consider him good enough for their daughter, and refused to allow the engagement to be made public. Unfortunately, Warne died of leukemia just a few weeks after the engagement. Potter did eventually marry, at age 47, to a solicitor and kindred spirit, William Heelis.

10. Potter wrote much more than you. (Probably.)

Potter was a prolific writer , producing between two and three stories every year, ultimately writing 28 books in total, including The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin , The Tale of Mrs Tiggy Winkle , and The Tale of Mr. Jeremy Fisher . Potter’s stories have been translated into 35 different languages and sold over 100 million copies combined.

11. Potter asked that one of her books not be published in England.

In 1926 Potter published a longer work, The Fairy Caravan . It was at first only published in America because Potter felt it was too autobiographical to be published in England during her lifetime. (She also told her English publishers that it wasn’t as good as her other work and felt it wouldn’t be well-received). Nine years after her death in 1943, the book was finally released in the UK.

12. Potter's later books had to be cobbled together from early drawings.

As her eyesight diminished it became harder and harder for Potter to produce the beautiful drawings that characterized her work. As a result many of her later books were pieced together from earlier drawings in her vast collection of sketchbooks. The Tale of Little Pig Robinson was Potter’s last picture book, published in 1930.

13. A lost work of potter's was published in 2016.

A lost Potter story , The Tale of Kitty-in-Boots , was rediscovered in 2013 and published in summer 2016. Publisher Jo Hanks found references to the story in an out-of-print biography of Potter and so went searching through the writer’s archive at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Hanks discovered a sketch of the kitty in question, plus a rough layout of the unedited manuscript. The story will be published with supplementary illustrations by Quentin Blake.

14. Potter was an accomplished sheep farmer.

Potter was an award-winning sheep farmer and in 1943 was the first woman elected President of the Herdwick Sheep Breeders’ Association.

15. You can visit Hill Top, Potter's home.


Strobilomyces, Wikimedia // CC BY-SA 3.0 

When Potter died in 1943 at the age of 77, she left 14 farms and 4000 acres of land in the Lake District to Britain’s National Trust, ensuring the beloved landscape that inspired her work would be preserved. The Trust opened her house, Hill Top, which she bought in 1905, to the public in 1946.

Mental Floss is partnering with the Paper & Packaging – How Life Unfolds® “15 Pages A Day” reading initiative to make sure that everyone has the opportunity (and time) to take part in The Mental Floss Book Club. It’s easy! Take the pledge at howlifeunfolds.com/15pages.

This article has been updated for 2019.

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