Ten years ago Sunday, Daylight Saving Time more than eclipsed standard time as the norm in America as man’s struggle to control his waking hours took another legal turn in a solitarily human debate.
The Energy Policy Act of 2005 extended the length of Daylight Saving Time to eight months, from the second Sunday in March to the first Sunday in November. It went into effect in 2007.
But the Daylight Saving Time discussion — the annual annoyance or optimism that comes with moving clocks one hour forward at 2 a.m. — has raged for decades in the U.S., spawning unusual alliances between powerful lobbies in favor and against tampering with Father Time.
“The whole proposition that we lose or gain an hour is, at best, philosophical, what are we talking about? And yet we go on talking about it every year,” said Michael Downing, author of the 2006 book “Spring Forward, The Annual Madness of Daylight Saving Time.”
“We have eight months of it now, so, in reality, it has become our standard time.”
One thing is clear in all the machinations and manipulations to spring forward over the years: Daylight Saving Time was not created to benefit farmers.
Downing said it’s a persistent belief in the U.S. that farmers wanted the time change, but, in fact, they fought it pitchfork and scythe, even taking their opposition all the way to the Supreme Court in the 1920s.
Farmers disliked Daylight Saving Time because they needed the sun to dry the dew from their crops before they could harvest and go to market. With the sun rising an hour later, they argued they were having to wait too long to pick their produce.
At the same time, cows didn’t follow man’s clock. They needed to be milked every 12 hours and Daylight Saving Time meant the farmer who once woke at sunrise to milk, now had to be up in the dark, using artificial light.
“I can see the dew argument,” said Ann Holt, who owns Twin H Farms in Belle Glade with her husband and is president of the Western Palm Beach County Farm Bureau. “Our main crop is sweet corn, but in Georgia we grow green beans, and you can’t harvest green beans until the dew dries off.”
Cotton and peanuts also should be picked dry or risk mold growth, Holt said. Sweet corn, on the other hand, doesn’t have to wait.
“I never knew that farmers had complained about it, but I could certainly see why,” Holt said. “There are a lot of pros and cons.”
So why do so many people believe farmers are the reason for the time change?
Downing said it goes back to when the first nationwide Daylight Saving Time law was passed in 1918 as an energy-saving measure during World War I. But it was also supported by a Boston-area department store owner Lincoln Filene, who compiled a list of the positive outcomes of Daylight Saving Time, including “most farm products are better when gathered with dew on. They are firmer, crisper, than if the sun has dried the dew off.”
“This was news to farmers,” said Downing, who believes the true reason for the 1918 change was that the retail, leisure and sports industry saw benefits to Daylight Saving Time.
After all, more time after work, meant more time to shop, play golf and go to baseball games. The movie industry, however, was with the farmers in their opposition of the time changing, noting that people don’t go to the theater when it’s light out, Downing said.
“Overall, though, there is a quality of life benefit,” said David Prerau, who wrote the 2006 book “Seize The Daylight: The Curious And Contentious Story Of Daylight Saving Time.” “People would generally prefer having the extra hour of daylight in the evening than if they had an extra hour in the morning.”
Palm Beach County golf courses take advantage of Daylight Saving Time by offering “Happy Hour Scrambles” that begin around 5:15 p.m. following the time change. By summer, golfers can start as late as 5:45 p.m. and still get in nine holes after work. Public courses also offer the option for golfers to play as many holes as they can until dark.
“We can’t do that during standard time,” said Bethany King, Palm Beach County’s golf operations supervisor.
King notes that she also believed Daylight Saving Time was put in place because of the farmers.
“That’s what I was told. It’s what I always thought,” she said.
By the early 1960s, states and municipalities were allowed to opt in or out of Daylight Saving Time and decide on their own start and stop dates.
That led to “widespread” confusion and chaos, Prerau said. One infamous example was a bus route from West Virginia to Ohio that included seven time changes.
In 1966, Congress approved the Uniform Time Act, which included a requirement that clocks be set ahead one hour beginning at 2 a.m. on the last Sunday in April and turned back one hour at 2 a.m. on the last Sunday in October. States were allowed to exempt themselves from the requirement as long as the entire state did so.
Today, Arizona, Hawaii and Puerto Rico do not recognize Daylight Saving Time.
Downing and Prerau disagree on the actual energy savings that occurs during Daylight Saving Time. Prerau said studies have shown less is spent on electricity, but Downing argues the studies are mostly theoretical and don’t account for the increase in gas that is used by people going shopping, to play golf and to baseball games.
Downing said over the years everyone from bus-riding students to “big-government liberals” and even Richard Nixon have been blamed for Daylight Saving Time.
“It seems like such a simple gesture — spring forward, fall back,” Downing wrote in the preface to his book. “Does anyone know what we’re doing?”
Whatever your thoughts, just don’t blame the farmers.