Can we please slow down and get something straight? There is simply no way to “save daylight.” People can spin the hands of their clocks like roulette wheels, but come Monday here in Washington, D.C., we’re still going to have sunshine for about 12 hours and 45 minutes. The sun can rise at a time of day we call dawn or Howdy Doody Time or whatever–but the stubborn facts of astronomy are at work here and they can’t be wished away.
The reason we have Daylight Saving Time (DST), of course, is because the politicians have mandated it. Washington is much better at wasting things than saving them, but federal lawmakers nevertheless spent much of the 20th century insisting, with typical modesty, that they could “save daylight.”
I recently wondered exactly why we observe Daylight Saving Time (DST). For some reason, I had harbored a vague notion that it had to do with farmers.
Well, it turns out that DST had nothing to do with farmers, who traditionally haven’t cared much for it. They care a lot less nowadays, but when the first DST law was making its way through Congress, farmers actually lobbied against it.
Dairy farmers were especially upset because their cows refused to accept humanity’s tinkering with the hands of time. The obstinate cud-chewers wanted to be milked every twelve hours, and had absolutely no interest in resetting their biological clocks–even if the local creameries suddenly wanted their milk an hour earlier.
As Michael Downing points out in his book, Spring Forward: The Annual Madness of Daylight Saving Time, urban businessmen were a major force behind the adoption of DST in the United States. They thought daylight would encourage workers to go shopping on their way home. They also tried to make a case for agriculture, though they didn’t bother to consult any actual farmers. One pamphlet argued that DST would benefit the men and women who worked the land because “most farm products are better when gathered with dew on. They are firmer, crisper, than if the sun has dried the dew off.” At least that was the claim of the Boston Chamber of Commerce, chaired by department-store magnate A. Lincoln Filene. This was utter nonsense. A lot of crops couldn’t be harvested until the morning dew had evaporated. What’s more, morning dew has no effect whatsoever on firmness or crispness.
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