The History of Daylight Savings

March 15th, 2013
Daylight savings has become an important part of our lives, with most of the western world advancing their clocks each year to bring more light to the evenings. In fact, the practice of daylight saving time (DST) is so common in the west that it's hard to remember a time it didn't exist. While ancient civilisations did adjust their daily schedules in response to daylight, the modern practice of direct clock manipulation is relatively new. First proposed in 1895 and originally implemented during the First World War, modern DST is very much a child of the 20th century.
A number of ancient civilisations used to vary the way time was measured depending on the season, in order to enjoy as much sun as possible during the winter months. For example, Roman water clocks had different scale measurements for different months of the year, and unequal seasonal working hours were also common in other civilisations. In fact, the natural desire for sunlight amidst rigid working hours was a major inspiration behind the development of daylight savings.

Modern DST was first proposed by New Zealand entomologist George Vernon Hudson, whose shift-work hours allowed him to enjoy the hobby of collecting insects at dusk. He realised not everyone had the freedom to enjoy the precious evening hours however, presenting a paper to the Wellington Philosophical Society proposing a two-hour daylight-saving shift. While English builder and outdoorsman William Willett is often credited with DST, his independent proposal came a few years later in 1905.

DST is not used in most countries around the world, although it is common in North America, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand. For most people living in these countries, the practice of moving the clocks has become normalised in a relatively short period of time. Germany and its World War One allies were the first to use daylight savings on 30 April 1916, as a practical way to conserve coal during the war. Britain and its allies soon followed, with Russia first moving its clocks in 1917 and the United States in 1918.

Daylight saving time was very much a product of the war however, with most countries abandoning the scheme immediately after the conflict. The seed had already been sown however, with people around the world falling in love with the additional evening daylight that DST provided. Some countries made the decision to keep DST after the war, including the United Kingdom, Canada, France, and Ireland.

DST was applied in Australia during both World War I and World War II, and was reintroduced throughout most of the country in 1971. DST was first applied in New Zealand in 1927, with emergency regulations in 1941 extending the scheme to cover the whole year due to the war. The Time Act 1974 reintroduced seasonal DST in New Zealand, with a survey ensuring its popularity a few years later in 1985.