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Saving daylight: How 'winter time' came to be

An English Rose in Georgia

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POSTED: November 9, 2017 6:30 p.m.
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Lesley Francis grew up in London, England, and made Georgia her home in 2009.

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Winter is not my favorite season. This goes back to when I lived in London, where the long dark nights begin as early as 4 p.m. in December. These long nights were usually compounded by a damp, cold wind that you can feel into your bones.

However, now that my life is in beautiful Coastal Georgia, I have grown to enjoy the onset of winter more. I have narrowed my reasons down to these:

• November means the end of the hurricane season (which is a relief after Matthew and Irma less than 12 months apart).

• It can still reach the 80s in November and beyond. Having spent more than four decades wearing mainly sweaters in England (where they are called "jumpers"), I love having a winter wardrobe that doesn’t feature heavy wool.

• Coastal Georgia averages half as much rain from November to February as it does from June to September (so says www.usclimatedata.com). Back in rainy ol’ England, November is the wettest month and the British rain tends to linger for days of gray gloom and drizzle rather than the rather more common short, sharp, heavy rain we get here. I have spent too much of my life under brollies and in Mackintoshes (known as umbrellas and raincoats here in America).

Why all this ruminating about the onset of winter? That seasonal reminder came last Sunday when we all put our clocks back an hour. When the clocks "fall back," even I must admit that summer is over and maybe I should put away my flip flops.

Of course, the main purpose of daylight saving time is to make better use of daylight and move an hour of daylight from the morning to the evening in summer and from the evening to the morning in the winter. This becomes irrelevant for countries near the equator that have nearly equal daylight and night time all year. But for countries closer to the North or South Pole, the longer period of daylight in summer has a significant effect on people’s lives.

I was delighted to learn that the idea of daylight saving belongs to one of my heroes and a founding father of the United States, Benjamin Franklin. He developed this idea when he was in Paris in 1784 as an American ambassador. The concept was not really taken seriously until a British builder called William Willett wrote a newspaper article about "The Waste of Daylight" and proposed advancing clocks 20 minutes on each of four Sundays in April, and "retarding" them by the same amount on four Sundays in September.

His enthusiastic lobbying ended up with a proposed Parliamentary bill in 1909, but farmers resisted his proposal. It was not until 1916 during World War I and after Willett’s death one year earlier that his scheme was made law in Britain. The fact that Germany had introduced a similar scheme did not add to its popularity and there was a great deal of opposition, confusion and prejudice surrounding the idea and its implementation.

After the end of the First World War, the British Parliament passed several acts and finally settled on changing the clocks twice a year by one hour. The energy saving benefits of "summer time" were recognized during World War II, when clocks in Britain were put two hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) during the summer. This became known as double summer time.

In the U.S., "fast time" as it was called then, was first introduced in 1918 when President Woodrow Wilson signed it into law to support the war effort during World War I. The initiative was sparked and championed by Robert Garland, a Pittsburgh industrialist who had encountered the idea in the U.K. Today he is often called the "Father of daylight saving."

However, only seven months later, once the war was over, the seasonal time change was repealed, due notably to farmer’s dislike of it. Adding to the chaos of disagreement, some northeastern U.S. cities continued to use daylight saving time, including Pittsburgh, Boston and New York, which did so to keep an extra hour overlap with the London financial markets each day.

This hodgepodge approach continued until President Franklin D. Roosevelt instituted year-round daylight saving time, also called "war time," on Feb. 9, 1942.

The confusion continued, however, since U.S. localities could start and end daylight saving time whenever they wished. Then came the Uniform Time Act in 1966, which more or less put the issue to rest. Daylight saving time is now in use in over 70 countries worldwide and affects over a billion people every year. The beginning and end dates vary from one country to another.

I say goodbye this week with a famous quote by the 19th-century Austrian writer Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach: "Even a stopped clock is right twice a day."

God bless America and enjoy your winter time!

She can be contacted at lesley@francis.com or at www.lesleyfrancispr.com.

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