Time to take back our 59 minutes

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Summer officially ended on Sept. 22 with the first day of fall, but for much of the world, the last day of summer is actually marked by the end of daylight-saving time or “summer time,” as it is called in many other countries.

Daylight-saving time is abbreviated DST in the United States. Every spring we move our clocks ahead to add an hour of sunlight to the after-work evening. On Nov. 4 we take back that hour by moving our clocks back. My brother says we actually only get 59 minutes back because “the government always keeps something.”

The idea of DST was first floated by Benjamin Franklin in 1784 when he was the U.S. envoy to France. According to “Benjamin Franklin: America's Inventor” written by Seymour Stanton Block and published in the February 2006 issue of American History Magazine, Franklin calculated that “if all the families of Paris who caroused until late at night and then slept until noon would arise with the sun six hours earlier, 64 million pounds of candle wax would be saved in six months' time.” He proposed to ring Parisian church bells at sunrise and, if that didn't work, set off cannon fire in every street to “wake the sluggards.”

Franklin's suggestion was supposed to have been satire but this was Franklin so who knows? Whatever he meant, the idea wasn't presented again until 1895 when New Zealand entomologist George Vernon Hudson presented the idea of a two-hour time change to the Wellington Philosophical Society. The conception of DST as we know it is usually credited to English builder William Willett who, in 1905, presented the idea of advancing clocks one hour during the summer months. After years of deliberation, daylight-saving time was finally adopted in 1916 to save energy during World War I, first by the Germans and then by most of the rest of Europe and the United States.

DST went away after the Great War but came back year-round during World War II when, in the United States, clocks were moved ahead one hour and the result was called “War Time.” United-Kingdom clocks were moved two hours ahead for “Double Summer Time.”

War Time went away in 1945 and DST didn't come back to much of the Northern Hemisphere until the 1973 energy crisis. It's been with us ever since. Residents of Hawaii, Arizona, Midway Islands and Wake Island don't change their clocks and DST is seldom, if ever, used in most tropical countries (lucky them).

After more than 35 years of twice-a-year clock changing, no one is sure that DST actually saves energy or if its advantages to some sectors of the public aren't outweighed by its disadvantages to others, such as farmers whose day starts at dawn no matter what their clocks say (my chickens and cats are also unfazed by the time change.)

One thing everyone is sure of is that the time change is a great time to change the batteries in our smoke alarms.