Daylight Saving Time, or ‘One if by land, two if by sea’ 5

Every year, when we switch from Standard Time to Daylight Saving Time (DST), we change the time on our clocks by one hour. Or that’s the idea, anyway. What really happens is that we don’t, and then we walk around for a day or two half asleep and repeatedly checking our watches.

willett2Just like last year, we change our clocks in March — specifically, at 2 a.m. March 9. However, getting up at 2 in the morning (especially on a weekend) just to reset every clock in the house is a hassle so it’s best to ask your spouse to do it. Or, if you bruise easily, you can just do it yourself before you go to bed on the 8th.

Forgetting to reset your clock is not the end of the world (that’s the penalty for filing your income tax late) but it can have some unwanted consequences, such as showing up for a movie an hour late or, even worse, getting to work an hour early.

On those rare occasions when we do remember to change our clocks, we often don’t know if we set the time forward an hour, or backward an hour. To help you remember which is which, there’s a simple mnemonic device: “One if by land, two if by sea.”

The idea of taking advantage of morning sunlight is not a new one. While he was the American envoy to France, Benjamin Franklin jokingly suggested firing cannons at sunrise to waken Parisians, who liked to have a lie-in to read Le Monde. He came up with this idea after flying a kite in a lightning storm, so take it with a grain of salt.

A similar idea of firing cannons at Parisians themselves, while wildly popular in England, had nothing to do with Daylight Saving Time and never enjoyed wide acceptance.

Speaking of the English, the idea for Daylight Saving Time came from an English outdoorsman and busybody named William Willett. In 1905, during one of his pre-breakfast horseback rides, Willett observed with dismay that many Londoners slept through the best part of a summer day. Why Willett was riding a horse through the middle of the most crowded city in England has been lost to history.

In addition to his hobbies of being a horseman and a know-it-all, Willett was also an avid golfer and disliked cutting short his round at dusk. His solution was to advance the clock during the summer months, a proposal he touted unsuccessfully until his death in 1915, when he was knocked from his horse by an alarm clock thrown from a tenement window.

DST caught on in parts of Europe in 1916 and the United States adopted it in 1918. However, not all states signed on. It is not observed in Hawaii, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and, with the exception of the Navajo Indian Reservation, Arizona.

The advantages of DST are debatable. By artificially changing the apparent time of our sunset and sunrise, we reduce the use of artificial light in the evening but increase it in the morning. Retailers, sporting goods makers and other businesses like the extra evening sunlight, because it induces customers to shop and to participate in outdoor sports in the evening. In addition, it’s a boon to cat burglars and second-story men, who have more light to work by.


  1. At every time change I am amazed at how many clocks we have in our house. At last count it was well over 400. I am still finding some that were not changed in the Fall but at least now they don’t need to be.
    And trying to figure out what time it is in Arizona, which doesn’t observe daylight savings because they have more than enough skin frying sunlight already thank you, is actually impossible. Just try it.

  2. The old Native American wondered: Only the White Man could believe that by cutting a foot of blanket off one end and sewing it to the other he would have a longer blanket.

  3. It’s a good thing your occasional history lessons are so entertaining because I’m not very confident of their veracity. You’re more like Mel Brooks’ 1,000-Year-Old Man than Richard Hofstadter. Good move for a humor blogger; Hofstadter’s efforts at schvantz-schtucker jokes were always really lame.

  4. Parts of Indiana, the state of my birth, also eschew DST. The “Flat Earth” parts of that backward state, primarily.

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