The Switching Hour: 14 Times People Advocated For or Rejected Daylight Saving Time

Jeff J Mitchell, Getty Images
Jeff J Mitchell, Getty Images

If there's anything guaranteed in life, it's that people will complain about daylight saving time. Critics argue it startles the circadian rhythm and increases the risk of heart attack, causes car accidents, and doesn't have many meaningful energy-saving benefits. But the alternatives are hardly perfect: If we make daylight saving time year-round, children in Michigan could wait for the school bus in pitch darkness. And if we nix daylight saving time altogether, New Yorkers could watch the summer sun set at 7:30 p.m. (And that's on the longest day of the year!)

Since there's no winning here, there's always a lot of whining. Here's a brief timeline.

1. BENJAMIN FRANKLIN COMPLAINS ABOUT ALL THE WASTEFUL NIGHT OWLS // 1784

A pocketwatch and picture of Benjamin Franklin
iStock.com, Homiel

A lot of people credit Benjamin Franklin with the idea of daylight saving time, but the claim is a stretch. Franklin believed it was ridiculous—and wasteful—that people slept through morning daylight only to burn candles late at night. In a facetious letter to the editor of The Journal of Paris, he took a potshot at night owls and proposed that everybody wake up at the stroke of dawn, with church bells and cannons acting as society's 6 a.m. alarm: No turning back the clocks necessary!

2. NEW ZEALAND RAILROADS EXPERIMENT WITH STANDARD TIME // 1868

An 1877 lithograph by W.D. Bletchley of Lyttelton Harbour, an inlet in Banks Peninsula on the coast of Canterbury, New Zealand.
An 1877 lithograph by W.D. Bletchley of Lyttelton Harbour, an inlet in Banks Peninsula on the coast of Canterbury, New Zealand.
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

Before the concept of standard time, clocks were pegged to the motions of the sun—and that meant noon in one town could arrive minutes before noon in a town 100 miles west. For telegraph and railroad operators, this would become incredibly cumbersome. So New Zealand's telegraph department instituted "Wellington mean time," and later that year, their parliament established a consistent time for the whole country. In 1883, railroads in the United States did the same, establishing five standard time zones. People immediately realized that standardization could lead to unusually dark mornings or nights.

3. AN ENTOMOLOGIST ADVOCATES FOR AFTER-WORK DAYLIGHT HOURS // 1895

A drawing of the adult and larvae stage of Pericoptus truncatus, sourced from the book New Zealand Beetles and their Larvae by George Vernon Hudson.
A drawing of the adult and larvae stage of Pericoptus truncatus, sourced from the book New Zealand Beetles and their Larvae by George Vernon Hudson.
George Vernon Hudson, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Realizing that standard time also has its downsides, an entomologist named George Hudson proposed a modern version of daylight saving time, hoping an extra hour of light could help him collect more insects. An abstract showed that nearly everyone hated the idea: "Mr. Hudson's original suggestions were wholly unscientific and impracticable … It was out of the question to think of altering a system that had been in use for thousands of years, and found by experience to be the best. The paper was not practical."

4. A BRIT TRIES THE "WASTE NOT, WANT NOT" ARGUMENT FOR MORE USABLE DAYLIGHT HOURS // 1907

British builder William Willett, circa 1900.
British builder William Willett, circa 1900.
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

William Willett, an English builder, proposed daylight saving in a pamphlet entitled The Waste of Daylight, writing, "Nearly everyone has given utterance to a regret that the clear bright light of early mornings, during Spring and Summer months, is so seldom seen or used." He suggested moving the clocks by 80 minutes. A few supporters in Parliament tried to advance the cause for "British Summer Time," but each bill flopped again and again.

5. WARTIME FUEL RATIONING MAKES DAYLIGHT SAVING A MONEY ISSUE // 1916

A Greenwich Mean Time notice in 1916 informs the British public of a change in time as clocks go back an hour during the first year of the daylight saving scheme.
A Greenwich Mean Time notice in 1916 informs the British public of a change in time as clocks go back an hour during the first year of the daylight saving scheme.
Topical Press Agency, Getty Images

In April 1916, Germany started observing daylight saving time in an effort to save fuel. One month later, Britain copied them. (By extending the evening daylight, British industries burned significantly less coal, which was in short supply because of World War I.) The United States and much of Europe followed.

6. CONGRESS OVERRIDES A PRESIDENTIAL VETO IN ORDER TO GET RID OF DST // 1919

A man sits in the driver seat of the first Ford tractor, circa 1920.
A man sits in the driver seat of the first Ford tractor, circa 1920.
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

Contrary to popular belief, daylight saving did not benefit America's farming class. "The agriculture industry was deeply opposed to the time switch," according to HISTORY. "[H]ired hands worked less since they still left at the same time for dinners and cows weren't ready to be milked an hour earlier to meet shipping schedules." Once the war was over, Congress eagerly repealed daylight saving time. President Woodrow Wilson vetoed the repeal, but a strong opposition in Congress overrode his veto.

7. AFTER THE WAR, AMERICAN TIME ZONES BECOME A FREE-FOR-ALL // 1920s

A family plays in the water in 1922.
Topical Press Agency, Getty Images

After World War I, American localities were free to choose whether to continue changing the clocks or not. "What followed was a time of chaos, when municipalities were free to set clocks according to their preferences," according to TIME. "In Colorado, for example, Fort Collins and other cities fell back to standard time, while Denver stuck with daylight saving. Colorado hotels had to keep two clocks in their lobbies: one for Denver time, and one for the rest of the state."

8. BRITAIN DOUBLES DOWN BECAUSE OF ANOTHER WAR // 1942

A British servicewoman sunbathing in her swimsuit and uniform cap, circa 1942.
A British servicewoman sunbathing in her swimsuit and uniform cap, circa 1942.
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

Shortly after Franklin D. Roosevelt signed a declaration of war, he instituted "War Time," a year-long form of daylight saving intended to provide extra daylight for war industries. In Britain, clocks were turned ahead two hours—what was called "Double Summer Time."

9. ANOTHER WAR ENDS, ANOTHER CHAOTIC TIME ZONE FRENZY ENSUES // 1945

Farm laborers returning home at the end of a day, July 1947.
Farm laborers returning home at the end of a day, July 1947.
J. Wilds/Keystone Features/Hulton Archive, Getty Images

After "War Time" ended, some localities continued to honor the summer time shift and turned the clock whenever they pleased. For the next two decades, chaos reigned. According to HISTORY: "In 1965 there were 23 different pairs of start and end dates in Iowa alone … Passengers on a 35-mile bus ride from Steubenville, Ohio, to Moundsville, West Virginia, passed through seven time changes." Finally, in 1966, the Uniform Time Act solved the problem by establishing a nationwide daylight saving period.

10. ARIZONA REFUSES TO PARTICIPATE // 1967

The moon sets over sandstone formations near Round Rock, Arizona.
David McNew, Getty Images

Not everybody was happy. Almost immediately, Arizona—a state that is, admittedly, not lacking sunshine—exempted itself from daylight saving time. (Politicians in Phoenix and Tucson argued that an extra hour of sunlight would actually drain energy, forcing businesses to run their cooling systems for longer.) Michigan joined the southern state's dissent, but voters there reversed that decision in 1972.

11. ANOTHER FUEL CRISIS, ANOTHER TIME SHIFT // 1974

A Texaco petrol station in New York City, circa June 1979.
A Texaco petrol station in New York City, circa June 1979.
Brian Alpert/Keystone/Hulton Archive, Getty Images

The oil crisis prompted Congress to enact the Emergency Daylight Saving Time Energy Conservation Act, which would have extended daylight saving for 16 months. According to NPR, "The Department of Transportation says the equivalent of 100,000 barrels of oil each day was saved." But critics disagreed: "This decision did not soften the blow of the OPEC oil embargo, but it did put school children on pitch-black streets every morning," author Michael Downing wrote in The New York Times in 2005. After only eight months, the government reluctantly returned to standard time.

12. RETAIL STORES WANT MORE DAYLIGHT BECAUSE IT INCREASES SHOPPING HOURS // 1986

Customers jostle to get the best crockery bargains on the first day of the Harrod's sale in 1988.
Customers jostle to get the best crockery bargains on the first day of the Harrod's sale in 1988.
Fox Photos/Hulton Archive, Getty Images

After much lobbying, the Chamber of Commerce convinced congress to add an extra (seventh) month of daylight saving time in an effort to encourage shopping. In an interview with NPR, Downing said, "[T]he golf industry alone … told Congress one additional month of daylight saving was worth $200 million in additional sales of golf clubs and greens fees." But not every industry was a winner. Candy manufacturers pushed to extend daylight saving time past Halloween in hopes the extra daylight would boost trick-or-treat sales. Industry lobbyists went as far as to "put candy pumpkins on the seat of every senator, hoping to win a little favor," Downing said, but they failed to get their way.

13. CALI AND THE SUNSHINE STATE WANT MORE SUNSHINE // 2016

A man watching a sunset.
Joe Raedle, Getty Images

California assembly member Kansen Chu proposed eliminating daylight saving time (or, alternatively, adopting it year-round). The measure was adopted two years later; at the same time, the Florida Senate approved the "Sunshine Protection Act," which would make daylight saving time all year. Both laws await federal approval.

14. THE E.U. IS DEBATING A DST-EXIT // 2018

Berlin's landmark TV tower (the Fernsehturm) is pictured at sundown.
Andreas Rentz, Getty Images

In a survey by the European Commission, more than 80 percent of 4.6 million respondents claim they would prefer it if daylight saving time lasted year-round. The European Union is now actively considering whether to stop turning back to standard time—returning Europe back to where it started before World War I, a century ago.

A New Ruth Bader Ginsburg Bobblehead Is Available for Pre-Order

The National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum
The National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

The late Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a devout champion for feminism and civil rights, and her influence stretched from the halls of the Supreme Court to the forefront of popular culture, where she affectionately became known as the Notorious RBG. Though there are plenty of public tributes planned for Ginsburg in the wake of her passing, the National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum has a new RBG bobblehead ($25) available for pre-order so you can honor her in your own home.

There are two versions of the bobblehead available, one of Ginsburg smiling and another with a more serious expression. Not only do the bobbleheads feature her in her Supreme Court black robe, but eagle-eyed fans will see she is wearing one for her iconic coded collars and her classic earrings.

RBG is far from the only American icon bobblehead that the Hall of Fame store has produced in such minute detail. They also have bobbleheads of Abraham Lincoln ($30), Theodore Roosevelt ($30), Alexander Hamilton ($30), and dozens of others.

For more information on the RBG bobblehead, head here. Shipments will hopefully be sent out by December 2020 while supplies last.

Sign Up Today: Get exclusive deals, product news, reviews, and more with the Mental Floss Smart Shopping newsletter!

A Hair-Raising History of the Flowbee

The Flowbee revolutionized the highly suspect idea of cutting one's own hair.
The Flowbee revolutionized the highly suspect idea of cutting one's own hair.
I Love Fun, YouTube

Like many great ideas, there is some confusion surrounding how California-based carpenter Rick Hunts was struck by inspiration for the Flowbee. The infomercial sensation of the late 1980s is a vacuum cleaner attachment that straightens hair, munches on it with clippers, and then sucks the trimmings into the canister.

In one version, Hunts is beguiled by a television show he saw in 1979 that demonstrated a person getting their hair cut while hanging upside-down, freeing their locks for clipping. Another has Hunts using a vacuum to get sawdust from his workshop out of his hair and having an epiphany.

The latter sounds more like the kind of mythologizing that accompanies inventors—one questions the wisdom of using a vacuum to remove sawdust from their hair rather than simply showering—but it doesn’t matter much. However he came upon the notion, Hunts’s vision of an at-home substitution for a barber was the Soloflex of hairstyling. It promised convenience, affordability, and the novelty of boasting your hair had been trimmed by a Hoover upright.

Hunts’s device, which he initially dubbed the Vacucut, took six to seven years to develop. By one estimate, he went through four prototypes—the last one involving 50 modifications—before he perfected the vacuum attachment. (Hunts’s children—or, more specifically, their hair—were used for testing.) The Vacucut took hair anywhere from a half-inch to six inches in length and, thanks to the suction of the vacuum, pulled it straight in the same way a stylist holds hair between their fingers. Once extended, clippers inside the attachment trimmed the excess, which wound up in the vacuum.

It required no skill and no additional pairs of hands; the length was adjustable using the included spacers. Owing to the air flow and the fact the device made a buzzing noise similar to a bee, Hunts decided to rename it the Flowbee, with a bumblebee-esque black and yellow color scheme.

Hunts, who raised more than $100,000 from investors and even sold his cabinet shop to obtain additional funds to mass market his creation, clearly felt the Flowbee would be a slam-dunk. He approached major personal grooming companies like Conair, Norelco, and Remington to see if they’d be interested in the Flowbee. He also approached beauty salons to see if they’d consider selling them to customers. He later recalled that all of them said the idea was nuts. In the case of the salons, they were afraid the Flowbee might actually work as advertised and see a reduction in foot traffic from people content to cut their own hair. 

Dismayed, Hunts took to trying to move product out of his garage. He also went to county fairs, where he would have a volunteer come up on stage. One side of the person’s head would be trimmed with scissors, the other side with the Flowbee. The results were comparable, and Hunts began selling a modest amount of inventory at $150 each.

The reaction of the county fair crowd may have been on Hunts’s mind when he saw an infomercial one evening for a food-sealing product. The program-length paid advertisements were really just barker shows broadcast to a mass audience. The Flowbee, Hunts knew, needed to be demonstrated. So Hunts spent $30,000 to produce and buy airtime for a 30-minute spot that began airing in 1988. Soon, the entire country was watching people aim a vacuum nozzle at their heads and clip their own hair.

The Flowbee entered popular culture, getting mentions in films like 1992’s Wayne’s World, where Garth (Dana Carvey) is menaced by a Suck Kut, and on shows like Party of Five. Imitators like the RoboCut and the Hairdini appeared to bite into market share, but the Flowbee enjoyed brand recognition. A Flowbee Pet Groomer was introduced, and Flowbee barbershops were considered. By 1992, the Flowbee was being sold in major retail chains. By 1993, Hunts’s San Diego-based company, Flowbee International, had sold 200,000 units. By 2000, the number was 2 million. While that may not sound like a lot, consider that this was a vacuum cleaner attachment selling for $69.95 to $150 retail that was intended for use on one’s head.

While millions of people enjoyed the Flowbee’s kitsch appeal, some people thought it sucked. Stylists believed it lacked the artistry of a professional, while others complained it wasn’t effective on hair longer than six inches or on curly locks. It was also difficult for the Flowbee to trim the sides or around the ears. George Clooney, however, swears by it; in December 2020, he admitted that he's been using one to cut his own hair for decades.

While they no longer air infomercials, Flowbee International is still in business—and has seen increased interest in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic as people avoid salons and look for alternatives to becoming Howard Hughes. Unfortunately, health concerns have prompted a cessation of activity at the Flowbee factory in Kerrville, Texas. They don’t intend to ship new product (which now sells for $99) until things settle down. The RoboCut, however, is still shipping.