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.

8 Gripping Facts About Hands Across America

LoveMattersMost, Flickr // CC0 1.0
LoveMattersMost, Flickr // CC0 1.0

Viewers of the new Jordan Peele thriller Us may walk out curious about the daisy-chain of humanity depicted in the film and whether it had any basis in reality. It does: Hands Across America was a nationwide effort to raise awareness (and money) for the plight of the hungry and homeless in America. The event took place on May 25, 1986 and involved nearly 5 million people across 16 states and Washington, D.C. joining hands for 15 minutes in a sign of solidarity. While promotional expenses ate into some of the profits, the stunt helped raise an estimated $15 million for charitable causes.

For more on this audacious '80s moment that featured Oprah Winfrey, Mickey Mouse, and Michael J. Fox, check out our round-up of facts and trivia. (Just don’t expect it to be as creepy as Peele’s interpretation.)

  1. Hands Across America wasn’t the first time someone had tried to get people to join hands across the country.

Hands Across America was the brainchild of advertising executive Geoffrey Nightingale, who had worked with USA for Africa founder and music promoter Ken Kragen on “We Are the World,” the star-studded 1985 single that raised money for the starving citizens of Ethiopia. During a New York City Ballet rendition of “We Are the World,” Nightingale told Kragen it might be a good idea to try and get people to join hands across state lines as a way to raise awareness for domestic hunger issues.

Kragen ran with the idea, but it wasn’t the first time it had been attempted. Back in 1976, a man named Marvin J. Rosenblum tried a similar event with the same name, but a lack of corporate sponsorship led to a weak turnout. (There was just one 10-mile line that formed outside of Chicago.) Rosenblum’s trademark on Hands Across America lapsed in 1977. Kragen maintained he hadn’t heard of the prior project until he had already started working on his own.

  1. There were protests against Hands Across America.

You wouldn’t imagine people having a problem with a charitable effort, but Hands Across America faced controversy early on for mapping out a route that began in New York City's Battery Park and ended up in Long Beach, California. States and cities that weren’t included in the route snaking through Pennsylvania, Maryland, Ohio, Kentucky, and Arizona, among others, objected to being left out. Senator Ted Kennedy voiced his disapproval that the link wouldn’t be running through New England.

  1. Prince sponsored a line.

Grammy and Oscar-winning recording artist Prince performs the song 'Purple Rain' at the 46th Annual Grammy Awards held at the Staples Center on February 8, 2004 in Los Angeles, California
Frank Micelotta, Getty Images

In order to successfully mount Hands Across America, Kragen looked to corporate America for underwriting. His first—and biggest—sponsor was Coca-Cola. The second was Citibank. Together, the two companies contributed an estimated $8 million to the effort. It was even advertised on McDonald’s placemats. But other sponsors could chip in for the registration fees that cost between $10 and $35 per person. Musician Prince bought a mile for $13,200. Together, sponsors and corporations accounted for roughly 2000 miles of the 4125-mile chain.

  1. There were a lot of gaps that had to be filled.

When Hands Across America launched at 3 p.m. eastern time on Sunday, May 25, 1986, the Associated Press estimated that approximately 4,924,000 people would be participating based on counts gathered from local community organizers. While concentrations were heavy in some states like New York and New Jersey, others found themselves short. Indiana needed 400,000 people, but just 250,000 showed up. In Sanders, Arizona, 109 people stood in a section that needed 1320 to appear complete. When there was a gap in the line, organizers filled it with ribbons, ropes, banners, or even cattle. When a bus driver in New Jersey saw a break in the line, he pulled over and asked his passengers to complete the connection.

  1. Prisoners participated in Hands Across America.

With a presence in 550 cities, Hands Across America made for some strange bedfellows. Major League Baseball players gathered for a game in Cincinnati, Ohio and held hands with Little Leaguers; nuns and Hell’s Angels members stood side-by-side in Pittsburgh. At Rahway State Prison in Rahway, New Jersey, inmates formed a line.

  1. There were weddings during Hands Across America.

Although Hands Across America was expected to last just 15 minutes, a number of people took the opportunity to use the gatherings as a springboard for other activities. A total of five marriages were reported to have been completed during the event, as well as baptisms and at least one bar mitzvah.

  1. Ronald Reagan was criticized for getting involved in Hands Across America.

President Ronald Reagan joined Hands Across America on the front lawn of the White House alongside his wife Nancy, the Reverend Billy Graham, and Olympic gymnast Mary Lou Retton. But Reagan was the subject of protests in Detroit’s Lafayette Park and was criticized for even being involved, as his critics believed he had done little to combat the hunger epidemic in America. The previous week, Reagan had cited a "lack of knowledge" among the poor about charitable resources as a reason they did not have access to food. The comment raised eyebrows. Reagan, however, denied his participation had anything to do with the backlash.

  1. Some people stiffed the event out of money.

Kragen had voiced hope that Hands Across America might be able to raise $50 or even $100 million in charitable donations. An estimate released a year after the event put the total number of donations at $24.5 million, with $9.5 million going to costs and $15 million to charities. In order to fill out the expected gaps in lines, USA for Africa had invited people to come join the group without registering or paying the $10 to $35 donation. Additionally, thousands of people showed up for the event who had pledged to donate but never did. An August 1986 story in The New York Times estimated the lost earnings to be between $7 and $8 million.

Eliza Leslie: The Most Influential Cookbook Writer of the 19th Century

American cookbook author Eliza Leslie
American cookbook author Eliza Leslie
Wikimedia // Public Domain

If it wasn't for Eliza Leslie, American recipes might look very different. Leslie wrote the most popular cookbook of the 19th century, published a recipe widely credited as being the first for chocolate cake in the United States, and authored fiction for both adults and children. Her nine cookbooks—as well as her domestic management and etiquette guides—made a significant mark in American history and society, despite the fact that she never ran a kitchen of her own.

Early Dreams

Born in Philadelphia on November 15, 1787, to Robert and Lydia Leslie, Eliza was an intelligent child and a voracious reader. Her dream of becoming a writer was nurtured by her father, a prosperous watchmaker, inventor, and intellectual who was friends with Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson. She once wrote that "the dream of my childhood [was] one day seeing my name in print."

Sadly, her father’s business failed around the turn of the 19th century and he died in 1803. The family took in boarders to make ends meet, and as the oldest of five, Leslie helped her mother in the kitchen. To gain culinary experience, she attended Mrs. Goodfellow’s Cooking School in Philadelphia, the first school of its kind in the United States. Urged by her brother Thomas—and after fielding numerous requests for recipes from friends and family—she compiled her first book, Seventy-Five Receipts for Pastry, Cakes, and Sweetmeats, in 1828. Notably, the book included the term cup cake, referring to Leslie's employment of a teacup as a measuring tool ("two large tea-cups full of molasses")—possibly the first-ever mention of a cup cake in print.

Seventy-Five Receipts was a hit, and was reprinted numerous times. Encouraged by this success—and by her publisher, Munroe & Francis—Leslie moved on to her true desire: writing fiction. She penned short stories and storybooks for young readers as well as adult fiction and won several awards for her efforts. One of her prize-winning short stories, the humorous "Mrs. Washington Potts," appeared in Godey’s Lady’s Book, the popular 19th century magazine for which she also served as assistant editor. Leslie also contributed to Graham’s Magazine, the Saturday Gazette, and The Saturday Evening Post. At least one critic called her tales "perfect daguerreotypes of real life."

As much as Leslie loved writing fiction, however, it didn't always pay the bills. She wrote a second cookbook, Domestic French Cookery, in 1832, and achieved the pinnacle of her success in 1837 with Directions for Cookery. That work became the most beloved cookbook of the 1800s; it sold at least 150,000 copies and was republished 60 times by 1870. She offered pointers on procuring the best ingredients ("catfish that have been caught near the middle of the river are much nicer than those that are taken near the shore where they have access to impure food") and infused the book with wit. In a section discouraging the use of cold meat in soups, she wrote, "It is not true that French cooks have the art of producing excellent soups from cold scraps. There is much bad soup to be found in France, at inferior houses; but good French cooks are not, as is generally supposed, really in the practice of concocting any dishes out of the refuse of the table."

In The Taste of America, noted modern food historians John and Karen Hess called Directions for Cookery “one of the two best American cookbooks ever written," citing the book's precise directions, engaging tips, straightforward commentary, and diverse recipes—such as catfish soup and election cake—as the keys to its excellence.

Leslie is also credited with publishing America’s first printed recipe for chocolate cake, in her 1846 Lady’s Receipt Book. While chocolate had been used in baking in Europe as far back as the 1600s, Leslie’s recipe was probably obtained from a professional chef or pastry cook in Philadelphia. The recipe, which featured grated chocolate and a whole grated nutmeg, is quite different from most of today's chocolate cakes, with its strong overtones of spice and earthy, rather than sweet, flavors. (You can find the full recipe below.)

Later in life, while continuing to write cookbooks, Leslie edited The Gift: A Christmas and New Year’s Present, which included early publications by Edgar Allan Poe. She also edited her own magazine of literature and fashion, Miss Leslie’s Magazine. She wrote only one novel, 1848's Amelia; Or a Young Lady’s Vicissitudes, but once said that if she was to start her literary career over, she would have only written novels.

A Uniquely American Voice

Historians have argued that Leslie was successful because she crafted recipes to appeal to the young country’s desire for upward mobility as well as a uniquely American identity. At the time she began writing, women primarily used British cookbooks; Leslie appealed to them with a distinctly American work. (She noted in the preface to Seventy-Five Receipts, "There is frequently much difficulty in following directions in English and French Cookery Books, not only from their want of explicitness, but from the difference in the fuel, fire-places, and cooking utensils. ... The receipts in this little book are, in every sense of the word, American.")

Leslie included regional American dishes in her books, promoted the use of quality ingredients, and was the first to (sometimes) organize recipes by including ingredients at the beginning of each recipe instead of using a narrative form, setting the tone for modern recipe writing. Her books were considered a treasure trove of knowledge for young pioneer women who, frequently separated from their families for the first time, often relied on Leslie's works for guidance.

Unmarried herself, Leslie never managed her own kitchen, and often had others testing recipes for her. She maintained strong ties with her erudite, sophisticated family, and lived for a time with her brother Thomas while he was attending West Point. Another brother, Charles Leslie, was a well-regarded painter in England; her sister Anna was also an artist, and sister Patty was married to a publisher who produced some of Leslie’s work. As she got older, Leslie lived for years in the United States Hotel in Philadelphia, where she was something of a celebrity for her wit and strong opinions.

Leslie died on January 1, 1858. Many of her recipes are still used today, but it's likely she’d be most pleased to know that many of her short stories are available online. Modern readers can appreciate the totality of her work: the fiction writing that was her passion, though for which she was lesser known, and her culinary writing, which guided generations.

Eliza Leslie's Recipe for Chocolate Cake

From The Lady's Receipt Book:

CHOCOLATE CAKE.—Scrape down three ounces of the best and purest chocolate, or prepared cocoa. Cut up, into a deep pan, three-quarters of a pound of fresh butter; add to it a pound of powdered loaf-sugar; and stir the butter and sugar together till very light and white. Have ready 14 ounces (two ounces less than a pound) of sifted flour; a powdered nutmeg; and a tea-spoonful of powdered cinnamon—mixed together. Beat the whites of ten eggs till they stand alone; then the yolks till they are very thick and smooth. Then mix the yolks and whites gradually together, beating very hard when they are all mixed. Add the eggs, by degrees, to the beaten butter and sugar, in turn with the flour and the scraped chocolate,—a little at a time of each; also the spice. Stir the whole very hard. Put the mixture into a buttered tin pan with straight sides, and bake it at least four hours. If nothing is to be baked afterwards, let it remain in till the oven becomes cool. When cold, ice it.

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