Why do Americans ‘fall’ back on Sunday

  • Published
  • By Arlan Ponder
  • 49th Wing Public Affairs
Sunday at 2 a.m. Americans will "fall" backward one hour to revert back to standard time. This comes after Americans "sprang" forward one hour to Daylight Saving Time the second Sunday in March.

For many people around the nation, this is a rite they do without ever thinking about where the idea began and why it was established. They also mispronounce the official name by calling it Daylight Savings Time - there is no S on the end of saving.

"Benjamin Franklin first conceived of Daylight Saving Time in 1784 during his journeys overseas, specifically Paris, as an American delegate," said Ben Campbell, historian and DST expert. "His proposal was published in the 'Journal de Paris'. He calculated that Parisians could save candles and lamp oil provided they rise when the sun comes up during the summer months as opposed to several hours later."

Campbell points out that many historians believe Franklin did this as a joke. Whether a joke or an actual attempt to use the sunlight wiser, Franklin's appeals for DST did not take effect in the U.S. until World War I. During World War II, President Franklin D. Roosevelt instituted year-round DST in the United States, called "War Time", which lasted from Feb. 9, 1942 to Sept. 30, 1945. The law was enforced 40 days after the bombing of Pearl Harbor and during this time, time zones were called "Eastern War Time", "Central War Time" and "Pacific War Time". After the surrender of Japan in mid-August 1945, the time zones were relabeled "Peace Time".

The main purpose of DST, which is called Summer Time in many places around the world, is to use daylight in a more productive and cost-effective way.

According to the California Energy Commission, the amount of energy used and the demand for electricity for lighting homes is "directly connected" to the times Americans rise and go to bed. When Americans retire for the evening they will turn off the lights and TV. In the average home, 25 percent of all the electricity used is for lighting and small appliances, such as TVs, VCRs and stereos.

"A good percentage of energy consumed by lighting and appliances occurs in the evening when families are home," Campbell said. "By moving the clock ahead one hour, we can cut the amount of electricity we consume each day."

The energy savings have been the main cause for moving the change dates since the Uniform Time Act was originally signed back in 1966 by then-President Lyndon Johnson. In 2005, Congressman Fred Upton, a Michigan Republican, introduced bill to extend DST by four more weeks.

"Extending daylight saving time makes sense, especially with skyrocketing energy costs. My daylight saving amendment is one small piece of the overall energy package ... every bit of conservation helps," said Upton.

Daylight Saving Time actually "makes" the sun set one hour later than it would during standard time. This one hour difference reduces the period between sunset and bedtime by one hour, subsequently causing Americans to use less electricity late in the day.

Public health can also benefit from DST, albeit in a small amount, Campbell said. "Studies have found that daylight can substantially decrease the likelihood of pedestrians being killed," he said. "These studies were done around the globe because many countries take part in Daylight Saving Time."

According to a DST Web site, approximately 70 countries utilize DST in at least a portion of the country. While European nations have been taking advantage of the time change for decades, in 1996 the European Union (EU) standardized an EU-wide "summertime period."

During the summer, Russia's clocks are two hours ahead of standard time. During the winter, all 11 of the Russian time zones remain an hour ahead of standard time.
"Russia is a unique country in regards to Daylight Saving Time," Campbell said. "Their high latitude and having two hours of DST really helps to save daylight and resources for the struggling nation."

Campbell said DST is not observed in Hawaii, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, the Eastern Time Zone portion of the state of Indiana, and the state of Arizona.

The Navajo Indian Reservation in New Mexico, Utah and Arizona does observe DST because of its large size and location in three western states, according to the Daylight Saving Time Web site.

Daylight Saving Time does have its opponents, according to the DST Web site.

"Occasionally people complain about DST. A frequent complaint is the inconvenience of changing many clocks, and adjusting to a new sleep schedule," Campbell said. "For most people, this is a mere nuisance, but some people with sleep disorders find this transition very difficult. Another complaint is sometimes put forth by people who wake at dawn. Farmers often dislike the clocks changing mid year."

The International Association of Fire Chiefs and the Energizer battery company are also urging Americans to adopt the life-saving habit of changing the battery in your smoke detector when you change your clock. The action will double a family's chance of surviving a home fire.

The clocks will again change on March 9, 2014, when Americans 'spring ahead,' or turn your clocks forward one hour.