Sunday, November 7, 2010

Ben Franklin and Daylight Saving Time: Even Homer Nods

"Daylight-saving time? Ben Franklin's bright idea"
Dana Angello, The Huntsville Item, (November 7, 2010)

"This is the time of year when we become painfully aware of how many clocks are in our homes, a product of daylight-saving time and the process of adjusting our clocks to 'fall' back one hour.

"There's one on the microwave, oven, coffee maker, computers, televisions, and an alarm clock in each bedroom. The list seems to go on forever. And each year we ask ourselves, 'Who came up with this idea? Is this really necessary?'

"As it turns out, daylight-saving time was first introduced to the world by Benjamin Franklin. In his essay 'The Economic Project,' which he wrote during his time in Paris, he complained of being awoken by the early morning sun and decided he had a logical remedy. By simply moving the clocks one hour forward he would not only be permitted to sleep later, but he also calculated that the Parisians would save 'an immense sum' of candle wax by postponing sundown.

"Franklin's idea fell on deaf ears for more than a century, until British builder William Willett successfully proposed Daylight Saving Time to Parliament after coming to the disappointing realization that the British were 'wasting daylight' by not waking up until after the sun had risen. Parliament eventually passed a law requiring the British to “spring” their clocks forward in April and then 'fall back' in the winter.

"Americans adopted the idea in 1918, hoping to bask in the sunshine, while also embracing Franklin's practical concern of energy conservation. In fact, during World War II, a year-round daylight-saving plan, 'War Time,' was put into place in an effort to decrease fuel consumption...."

The Lemming thinks Benjamin Franklin had quite a few good ideas: from the Franklin stove to bifocals. Daylight Saving Time? Two centuries back, it might have saved a lot of candle wax. Today? Well, a few things have changed since the days of the powdered wig.

Ah! But think of all the electricity we'll save! The Energy Information Administration says that the United States uses about 13.4% of its electricity for lighting. That's not a negligible percentage: but it's not particularly huge, either.

Besides: Most offices I've worked in used electrical lighting during the day. They had to: there weren't that many work stations near a window. I suppose we could have used candles.

Dana Angello's article traces Daylight Saving time, American style, back to 1918, the year WW I ended. The Lemming's suspected that the American Congress wanted to 'do something' to justify its existence - but I won't insist on the idea.

Anyway, we're stuck with twice-yearly jet lag and the hassle of resetting clocks - all for the sake of saving some fraction of the small percentage of electrical power that's used for lighting.

Or maybe it's to conserve candle wax.

Related posts:
A serious look at energy statistics:

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