The Origins of Daylight Saving Time

Benjamin Franklin, an entomologist, and a wartime need to save energy all have something to do with it
Ready to "spring forward"?
Ready to "spring forward"? / Catherine Lane/Moment/Getty Images

As you drag your time-confused body out of bed after what seems like an unusually short slumber this Sunday, you might find yourself wondering why on Earth we even have Daylight Saving Time.

Daylight Saving Time Starts

Daylight Saving Time Ends

March 10, 2024

November 3, 2024

Though Benjamin Franklin was mostly joking when he suggested it as a money-saving tactic in a satirical essay from 1784, others who later proposed the idea were totally serious. In 1895, entomologist George Vernon Hudson pitched it to the Royal Society in New Zealand as a way to prolong daylight for bug-hunting purposes, and William Willett spent the early 1900s lobbying British Parliament to adopt an 80-minute time jump in April; neither man was successful.

During World War I, however, the need to conserve energy—which, at the time, chiefly came from coal—increased, and Germany was the first to give Daylight Saving Time the green light in 1916. Britain and other European countries quickly followed suit, and the U.S. entered the game in 1918. The practice was dropped almost everywhere after the war, but it was widely resurrected just a few decades later during World War II.

After that war ended, the U.S. abandoned DST yet again—sort of. Without any official legislation, the country devolved into a jumble of conflicting practices. According to, Iowa had 23 different pairs of start and end dates for DST in 1965, while other areas of the country didn’t observe DST at all.

In 1966, Congress put an end to the chaos by passing the Uniform Time Act, which specified that DST would begin at 2:00 a.m. on the last Sunday in April, and end at the same time on the last Sunday in October. (The Energy Policy Act of 2005 extended DST by shifting these dates to the second Sunday in March and the first Sunday in November [PDF].) It didn’t require that all states and territories actually observe DST, and some of them didn’t—Arizona and Hawaii still don’t.

Throughout its long, lurching history, the supposed merits of Daylight Saving Time have always been about cutting down on electricity usage and conserving energy in general. But, as Live Science reports, experts disagree on whether this actually works. Some studies suggest that while the extra daylight hour might decrease lighting-related electricity use, it also means people could be keeping their air conditioners running for long enough that it increases the overall usage of electricity.

The days of “springing forward” and “falling back” could be numbered. In March of 2022, the U.S. Senate passed the Sunshine Protection Act of 2021, which would make Daylight Saving Time permanent; momentum on voting to pass the act stalled, and Marco Rubio reintroduced it in 2023. The House of Representatives must also vote in its favor, and President Biden would have to sign the bill into law, before we say goodbye to the biannual ritual of fiddling with the clocks.

A version of this story was originally published in 2020; it has been updated for 2024.

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