The Daylight-Savings Plan

Arguments For And Against The Proposal To Set The Clock Forward An Hour During The Summer

I - Wake Up, America—The Sun's Up!

By John E. Bechdolt

[Munsey's Magazine, April 1918]

Civilization is taking a vital interest in clock-reform. One after another, the nations are adopting legislation which sets the clocks faster for at least a part of the year. What was regarded, prior to 1914, as the fad of visionaries and a menace to the established order, has since been accepted as a military necessity and a measure that pays good dividends in dollars and cents.

The action of our own Congress, at the time when this article was prepared, promised the United States seven months of clock-reform every year. During the months of longest sunlight the American citizen may expect to get up an hour earlier than he has been accustomed to do. There are numerous urgent reasons why he should do this.

The mistake of the critics of daylight-saving is in assuming that time, which is purely a man-made convention, is a sacred thing which never has been changed and never should be changed.

Since man came upon the earth he has been trying to find a satisfactory way of measuring the consciousness that begins with birth and ends at the grave. The hours of the clock are purely nominal things—conventional marks on a dial or a time-table. They are what we call them. Now, by the simple process of calling one hour by the name of another, we find we can save a million tons of coal a year, can greatly facilitate railroad business, can speed up industries, and can add a little to the general health and happiness.

Opposed to an experiment which promises so much are only arguments based on the sacredness of things as they are; and the present war has taught the world—if it needed the lesson—the frailty and falsity of such opposition.

Germany began saving daylight on May 1, 1916. Great Britain, France, Italy, Holland, Sweden, and several other countries are doing the same thing. Whatever other troubles they may be wrestling with, we have heard nothing of any revolt against clock-reform.

Germany was the first of the warring nations to decide to save sunlight, but the German leaders have a precedent in the action of Joshua in biblical days. To gain time for the defeat of the Amorites at Gibeon, Joshua addressed himself directly to the sun:

"Sun, stand thou still upon Gibeon; and thou, moon, in the valley of Ajalon."

The day of the ancient Greeks was measured by sun time. It began when that celestial luminary rose and ended when he sought his couch. Theoretically that is the best day of all; and if mankind had not invented wheels, and developed the habit of traveling, we might all measure time that way in this year 1918. But with the invention of wheels began man's fight to annihilate time—a battle which thus far has resulted only in confusing and complicating all our means of measuring the passage of our existence.

It is bad enough to-day, when the railroads must be operated by the clumsy expedient of dividing the map into time zones; worse confusion is promised when rapid aerial travel becomes common. Unfortunately for time-reformers, the sun will not shine upon the different parallels at the same moment, and all plans to turn man back to natural ways must to a certain extent be makeshifts.


To Ben Franklin is accorded the honor of being the first American daylight-saving advocate. In 1784, when he was our newborn nation's commissioner in Paris, he tried to reform the schedule of the Parisian day. By ingenious calculations, exaggerated somewhat for the sake of argument, he proved that the citizens of the French capital could save ninety-five millions of francs a year, spent for candles, by getting up with the sun and going to bed at twilight. He proposed ringing all the church-bells and firing cannons in the street at sunrise. A tax on every window that was shuttered or shaded after dawn was his idea of punishment for evading the proposed law.

Paris was no doubt diverted, but there is no record that Franklin's idea was taken seriously.

Once daylight-saving reform is generally accepted, it provides its own penalties for evasion. The man who chooses to call seven o'clock by its former name, six, will find himself so inconvenienced in transacting business that he will soon conform to the general custom.

All of the United States that lies north of latitude thirty—that is, roughly speaking, north of Jacksonville, New Orleans, and San Antonio, Texas—will benefit considerably by putting the clock forward one hour in summer. South of this latitude nature distributes the daylight equally enough. Besides the more even distribution of light in southern latitudes, another obstacle to clock-reform is the necessity of allowing for rest in the heat of the day.

Under reformed time we shall rise an hour earlier and go to work an hour earlier. Light is a physical stimulant, and in the same number of hours more work can be done with less effort.

The working man or woman will have an added daylight hour for rest and recreation. In mild weather this suggests outdoor play. The cities of Cleveland and Detroit, both of which have experimented with reformed time, report added thousands enjoying the parks and playing baseball and other healthy games. With national time-reform a fact, the suburbanite who looks forward all day to a quiet evening in his garden should have his pleasures increased very considerably.

Daylight-saving promises an added hour of work in the cooler part of the hot summer days, which take their toll in life and health from the big cities. For the factory-worker this is an advantage well worth considering.

Man is not naturally a nocturnal animal. His normal working day begins with the dawn and ends with the coming of night. After nightfall, under our present scheme of life, his chief business is wasting time and money and health.

It would be claiming too much to say that daylight-saving will end city nightlife; but in the case of the man who works for a living, it is reasonable to suppose that night-life will be more or less modified.


In the way of concrete results, Mr. McAdoo, Secretary of the Treasury and director-general of railroads, foresees the facilitation of transportation. He has predicted that an additional hour of daylight effort will finally end the congestion of railroad business, and will quicken the operation of the overtaxed terminals.

The United States Chamber of Commerce estimates that the nation can save fifteen hundred thousand tons of coal a year by using an additional hour of daylight during the summer months. Dr. Garfield, head of the Fuel Administration, puts the estimate lower—eight hundred thousand tons. Even at the smaller figure the saving promised is enough to justify the reform.

Sir Henry Norman calculates that during the last three years Great Britain has saved nearly a million pounds annually by getting to work earlier during the months of greatest sunshine. A conservative estimate puts the possible saving in the United States at twice that figure.

A point advanced by objectors to the daylight-saving plan is the confusion which they say it will entail upon railroad schedules. Railroad schedules are sufficiently complicated in appearance to make any reformer shudder, yet, after all, they are not such fragile machinery. In times of disaster—floods, fires, and blizzards—railroad schedules are shattered with painful regularity, and never yet has the resulting inconvenience approached the proportions of a calamity. If railroad schedules could not be adjusted, railroads would have no need to employ experts to make and change them. Now that the railroads are under government control, and the director-general has advocated clock-reform, this objection seems to have vanished.

The machinery of business and the law lives only by the regularity of the clock-tick, to judge by the arguments of some of the opponents of daylight-saving. Is it not quite possible that the calamities they predict are, after all, no more formidable than the dislocation of railroad schedules? Indeed, has not the experience of at least half a dozen other countries already proved that such is the fact?

There is no valid reason for not calling seven o'clock six o'clock if we choose, and there seem to be good reasons why we should. Let us try waking up with the summer sun, or more nearly with the summer sun. It promises to pay in money, health, and happiness. All that we need do is to assure ourselves that to-morrow morning's clock is just as truthful as that of today; and so in truth it will be.

© J. Fred MacDonald, 2013

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A Novel of World War One
By J. Fred MacDonald

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