This blog post was written by Graduate Assistant Emma Fenske, a master’s student in the History Department.
Today we get an extra hour of sleep as we set our clocks back one hour.
This enchanting hour has intrigued poets, philosophers, scientists, economists, politicians, and constituents since its ideological origins. In the Post-Industrial world of transportation and communication, where the subjugation of time seems commonplace, the yearly magic trick of Daylight Savings Time should have lost some of its wonder. The disappearing hour, however, is still the subject of extensive debate and speculation, even within the Texas State House of Representatives as recently as April 2019.
The continued mystique garners the question, what is Daylight Savings Time, and why is it still debated today? Through an analysis of the history of Daylight Savings Time, specifically within Texas, this post hopes to unveil the “men behind the curtain” to locate the origins of this magic hour within a very real and recent political history of the United States.
The origins of Daylight Savings Time is believed to have begun with an essay by Benjamin Franklin in 1784. Franklin, after waking in the middle of the night to a bright room, deduced that setting the time to match when the sun rises would benefit individuals economically. Through adopting his proposed method of taking full advantage of the light of the sun, Franklin claimed it is “impossible that so sensible a people, under such circumstances, should have lived so long by the smoky, unwholesome, and enormously expensive light of candles, if they had really known, that they might have had as much pure light of the sun for nothing”.
The next major voice within the discussion of Daylight Savings was Englishman William Willet who published an essay titled “Waste of Daylight” in 1907. Though his argument never gained traction within his own lifetime, the first legislation on Daylight Savings was passed three years after his death in association with the World Wars. During both wars, the U.S. government passed acts that allowed for additional hours of daylight to help keep energy costs to a minimum. Due to great opposition by farmers and families, both of whom saw undue danger, contention, and inconvenience in daylight saving, the acts were repealed at the end of each conflict.
The post-World War II era (1945-1965) became a Daylight Savings free-for-all as cities and states chose their own expression of time. In 1966, President Lyndon B. Johnson, a Texas native, signed the Uniform Time Act into law establishing time zones and a Daylight Savings Time by state consent from the last Sunday in April through the last Sunday in October. Daylight Savings was still contested by families and farmers. As demonstrated in the multiple form letters to Texas U.S. Representative O.C. Fisher from constituents in 1969, citizens of the United States were not in full agreement with the establishment of Daylight Savings.
In a form letter sent to Congressman O.C. Fisher on five separate occasions, constituents noted four key problems with Daylight Saving Time:
- “…our children are subjected to going to school in ‘darkness’ or ‘semi-darkness’. That means for approximately three months of the year, they are in unnecessary danger.
- … it seems ridiculous to add to that tension of the day by adjusting the hottest part of the day to the time when families reunite.
- Especially in Texas it is true that we have an abnormal ‘instant summer’ … and equally ‘instant winter’ … It is much more natural and comfortable to gradually ‘ease’ into these seasons…
- …it is most difficult to maintain evening study habits which are so important for their scholastic achievement. When it is still light out, the children have a tendency to want to stay outside and of course this makes for additional family tension and unnecessarily poor study environment.”
Similarly, in 2005, Texas U.S. Representative Chet Edwards received letters of protest from constituents following the adoption of the Energy Act of 2005 where the start date of Daylight Savings was moved up to where it remains today at the second Sunday in April and the first Sunday in November. Constituent Ms. Paula Murphy stated, “Please DO NOT vote to extend daylight savings time or support the extension of daylight savings time. Such an extension will disrupt many lives for working people and children [who] rise very early to get to the bus especially in rural communities”.
In 2019, a House Resolution was passed within the Texas State Congress to stay year-round within Daylight Savings time or Standard time. Though never addressed in the Texas State Senate, Daylight Savings remains an issue of contention within Texas to this day. Once the history of Daylight Savings is understood, the enchanted hour is revealed to simply be an historically rooted expression of time shaped by the social, economic, and political history around it. Political actors are the magicians behind the curtain, using the extra hour to facilitate greater production and uniformity within trade, communication, and commerce. Skeptics show continued disillusionment with the safety and practicality of Daylight Savings.
As for me, today, I will be enjoying the enchanting hour. Asleep.
 Franklin, Benjamin. 1931. “Daylight Saving.” In The ingenious Dr. Franklin: selected scientific letters of Benjamin Franklin, by Nathan G Goodman, 17-22. (University of Pennsylvania Press). 22
 Baylor Collection of Political Materials W.R. Poage Legislative Library, Waco, Texas. (OC Fishers Correspondence Series)
 Baylor Collection of Political Materials W.R. Poage Legislative Library, Waco, Texas. (Thomas Chester “Chet Edwards U.S. House of Representatives papers Box 376 File 1)
Betts, Jonathan D. 2020. “Daylight Saving Time.” In Encyclopædia Britannica. https://academic.eb.com/levels/collegiate/article/Daylight-Saving-Time/29565.
Franklin, Benjamin. 1931. “Daylight Saving.” In The ingenious Dr. Franklin: selected scientific letters of Benjamin Franklin, by Nathan G Goodman, 17-22. University of Pennsylvania Press.
Gray, Thomas R, and Jeffery A. Jenkins. 2019. “Congress and the Political Economy of Daylight Saving Time, 1918–1985.” Social Science Quarterly 1664–1684.
Lange, Katie. 2019. “Daylight Saving Time Once Known As ‘War Time’.” U.S. Department of Defense. March 8. https://www.defense.gov/Explore/Features/Story/Article/1779177/daylight-saving-time-once-known-as-war-time/#:~:text=In%20America%2C%20daylight%20saving%20time,zones%20that%20we%20now%20know.
Larson, Lyle. 2020. “Guest viewpoint: Texas Legislature will try again to address Daylight Saving Time.” Times Record News. March 7. https://www.timesrecordnews.com/story/opinion/2020/03/07/texas-legislature-try-again-address-daylight-saving-time/4954225002/.
Limon, Elvia. 2019. “Texas didn’t always participate in daylight saving time. Curious Texas investigates what happened .” The Dallas Morning News. May 1. https://www.dallasnews.com/news/curious-texas/2019/05/01/texas-didnt-always-participate-in-daylight-saving-time-curious-texas-investigates-what-happened/ .
U.S. Department of Transportation . 2015. “Uniform Time.” U.S. Department of Transportation . February 13. https://www.transportation.gov/regulations/time-act#:~:text=Today%2C%20the%20Uniform%20Time%20Act,change%20a%20time%2Dzone%20boundary.