Shedding Light on the History of Daylight Saving Time : The Bryant Park Project Where it comes from: Daylight Saving Time.
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Interview with Dr. David Prerau

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Shedding Light on the History of Daylight Saving Time

Shedding Light on the History of Daylight Saving Time

Interview with Dr. David Prerau

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/15881082/15875557" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

Tomorrow night we turn the clocks back, marking the end of Daylight Saving Time (DST). Today on the show we had a fascinating conversation with Dr. David Prerau, author of "Seize The Daylight: The Curious and Contentious Story of Daylight Saving Time."

Back in the 1970's Prerau participated in one of the largest studies of DST ever conducted, and in 2005, when DST was revised to add another month -- a change that finally took effect this year -- David consulted with Congress on the law.

We enjoyed speaking with him so much that we decided to get more information out of him by continuing the conversation here on the Web. Here's what he told us over e-mail...

Different industries have been on different sides of the DST debate over the years. Which industries have taken which sides and why?

From the very beginnings of daylight saving time until today, the leading industry group against daylight saving time has always been farmers. Somehow, many people believe that DST was adopted to benefit farmers, but this is a definite misconception. Farmers generally have to follow the sun, and not the clock. So when everyone else moves up one hour, they cannot. And this makes it difficult when they have to interact with the others, such as when they bring products to market.

Industries that are based on outdoor activities, such as sporting equipment manufacturers, have been supporters of DST, while those that are indoor based, such as the movie industry, have been opponents. In the 2005 Congressional hearings on the new DST extension, one of the major opponents was the airline industry, which was concerned about how the new daylight saving time period would affect their scheduling.

What are a couple of the DST factoids that you find most interesting?

There were many famous early advocates of DST, such as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Woodrow Wilson, but one of the most ardent was Winston Churchill. In 1911, he was the main speaker at a large pro-daylight saving time rally in London, and he gave a very eloquent speech to the resounding cheers of DST supporters.

In the 1950s and 1960s, there was no national DST law, and each city and town could decide for itself whether it wanted daylight saving time, and if so, when to start and end it. As DST's popularity spread, this non-uniformity led to some very interesting situations. For example, there was a period when Minneapolis was on standard time, but St. Paul, its twin city, was on DST. And there was a bus ride you could take from Moundsville, West Virginia to Steubenville, Ohio--just 35 miles--but because some towns where the bus stopped followed DST and others didn't, you'd have to change your watch seven times in the 35 miles to keep your watch accurate!

You're one of the nation's top Daylight Saving Time experts, the guy Congress calls when they're rewriting the laws. Do you have anything big planned for this weekend?

This weekend, because of the great interest in the DST change, I spend most of my time on the phone talking to the media, and so I don't get much chance to plan anything too exciting. However, back in 1918, when DST was first introduced in the United States, there were big daylight saving time celebrations all over the country at 2 a.m. when the first time change went into effect. For example, a big outdoor celebration took place in Madison Square in Manhattan, where several thousand people watched a parade, listened to patriotic addresses, and then cheered as the big clock on the nearby Metropolitan Tower advanced from 2 a.m. to 3 a.m.