Ben Franklin among first to pitch daylight saving time – Post-Tribune


Will you turn your clocks back an hour before going to bed Saturday night? Thank daylight saving time.Many place the conception of daylight saving time upon the shoulders of renowned Pennsylvania statesman Benjamin Franklin, genius inventor, journalist and man about town.

Ben Franklin was living in Paris as the Ambassador to France at the time, going to bed late and waking up at noon — contrary to his often quoted saying “Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise,” according to a 1784 letter to the editors of The Journal of Paris found on

He had an epiphany after witnessing a demonstration of a new type of oil lamp and pondered whether the oil “it consumed was not in proportion to the light it afforded.” Paris could save a heck of a lot of money by using sunshine — instead of candle wax and wicks — as a source of light. If only its citizens would get out of bed before noon.

Franklin’s plan was laid out in mocking detail in his letter. It included calculations of the 183 nights between March 20 and Sept. 20, multiplied by the number of hours and candles, multiplied by the number of Parisians, and so on.

His proposal suggested the government tax every window with shutters to keep out the light; have the police regulate burning candles in the same manner they regulated burning wood; post guards to prevent coaches on the streets after sunset; ring the church bells and fire cannons if necessary “to wake the sluggards effectually,” the letter stated.

Ben Franklin, as brilliant as he was, could not have predicted World War I and the fuel shortages and famine his New World would face.

Most of Europe had already instituted “daylight saving time” when the U.S. instituted stringent fuel-conservation measures in January 1918. The U.S. faced a coal shortage and famine at the height of its involvement in WWI.

It was no joke on Jan. 3, 1918, when the Federal Fuel Administration ordered Gary Heat, Light and Water Co. to turn off the electricity powering street lights and signs on Broadway at night, reported the Gary Daily Tribune Jan. 4, 1918.

Transportation of goods became a big issue and the same day. The Hobart Gazette published President Wilson’s announcement that he was taking over control of the railroad.

“This is a war of resources, no less than of men, perhaps even more than of men and it is necessary for the complete mobilization of our resources that the transportation system of the country should be organized under a single authority,” his remarks stated in part.

The first week in January that year, Northwest Indiana was blasted by a blizzard. Gary Mayor William F. Hodges beseeched his citizens in a front page letter in the Gary Daily Tribune to step up and help shovel the snow out of the streets and off the rail lines to allow food and fuel to be delivered to the city.

Not long after, Hobart Light & Water Department’s Superintendent V.A. Bloxham issued its own “lights out” memo in the Hobart Gazette on Friday, Feb. 8. Due to the continuing shortage of coal, the plant supplying electric current to the people of Hobart was forced to turn off all power that night from 11 p.m. to 4 a.m.

National Fuel Director Harry Garfield also had ordered businesses to close every Monday for 10 weeks unless they were involved in food production or distribution. The Gary Works plant was exempt as it was making ship plates for the war effort.

Meanwhile, Congress was hashing out its plan to conserve fuel by taking advantage of sunlight hours. Daylight saving time, a concept in use across Europe, involved changing the clocks instead of people’s behavior.

By setting the clocks one hour ahead in the spring folks get an extra hour of sunlight at the end of the day. Later in the year, when the days are shorter, the clocks are rolled back an hour and people get an extra hour of sunlight in the morning.

Wilson said he was convinced the measure would mean the saving of millions of dollars in light and fuel and allow for the production of great quantities of food stuffs in back yard gardens, reported the Jan. 14, 1918 Chicago Tribune.

Though sometimes referred to as “fast time,” after the plan passed Congress, Dr. Henry J. Cox, chief of the weather bureau, officially called it “Summer Time” in order to keep the time-saving strategy distinct from “real time” in weather-keeping records, according to the Chicago Tribune, March 30, 1918.

The time change was set to start at 2 a.m. March 31 and end at 2 a.m. on Oct. 25. It had obvious implications for commuter train schedules and businesses, but for rural residents, the benefit was less obvious, even though the plan was meant to increase the yield of backyard gardens.

“This area — Porter County and probably much of Southern Lake County — was a lot of farm land at the time,” said Serena Sutliff, Museum Curator for the Westchester Township History Museum. “Farmer’s didn’t go by time on the clock. They went by sun light. Daylight saving time wouldn’t have been important to them.”

The Chesterton Tribune did not take too much notice of the time change, according to Sutliff. There was an announcement in the March 28 issue under the local and social listings advising readers that working people would have one more hour of daylight. A week later, on April 4, the paper reported “the change Is not near so radical as first thought.”

According to Sutliff, one of the biggest problems resulting from the time reset was a confusion with the train schedules.

“People who had to get to work earlier were missing the trains they were supposed to take,” Sutliff said.

In October, the clocks were turned back to “real time” at 2 a.m. Oct. 25. Railroad Director General William G. McAdoo ordered all trains to stop for one hour and then proceed on their way. The fuel administration estimated it had saved more than a million tons of coal and the nation’s gas users saved $2 million as a result of daylight saving time, reported the Fort Wayne Sentinel on Oct. 26, 1918.

By April 26, 1941, daylight saving plan was in use in the Chicago metropolitan area for 23 years. The program was not standardized as it is today and local municipalities set their own start and end times.

For example, in 1941 daylight saving time began on April 27 and was set to end the last Sunday in September. The Chicago City Council voted to extend it to the last Sunday in October, the Tribune reported. That year Chesterton, Porter and Valparaiso also extended its participation to the end of October, reported the Sept. 27, 1941 Valparaiso Vidette-Messenger.

Today the U.S. Department of Energy officially calls the plan “daylight saving time” – without the “s” on saving. The U.S. will “spring ahead” next at 2 a.m., Sunday, March 12, and fall back at 2 a.m., Sunday, Nov. 5.

Nancy Coltun Webster is a freelance reporter for the Post-Tribune.

Source: One of the first to pitch daylight saving time – Post-Tribune

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