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Daylight Saving Time Started Because Ben Franklin Liked to Sleep Late

This Sunday, most Americans will sets the clocks back to gain an extra hour of daylight. But it's not always easy doing that.Setting back the clock this Sunday is not about gaining an hour of daylight so much as it is regaining the hour lost during daylight saving time in March, according to the nation's official timekeeper, the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations. By act of Congress, civil clocks in most regions of the United States are adjusted ahead one hour in the spring — Daylight Time — and returned back one hour in fall to Standard Time.

The idea of saving daylight was the brainchild of the father of a lot of our country's bright ideas - Benjamin Franklin, according to Heidi G. Yacker, of the Congressional Research Service Library, although the idea was not adapted at the time of his suggestion. In fact, it made a lot of Frenchmen very angry.

When Benjamin Franklin was Minister to France, he half-jokingly postulated that clocks in France should be reset to allow an extra hour of daylight during waking hours. He calculated in a 1784 letter to the Journal of Paris that French shopkeepers could save one million francs a year on candles. He also liked the idea on a personal level, as he lost a lot of daylight by sleeping so late.

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Benjamin Franklin thought that if he could add an extra hour to the day, then Frenchmen would reap the benefits in candle-wax savings -- plus, he sleep in longer.

When Congress decided to establish time zones at the behest of the U.S. and Canadian railroads in 1918, with the Standard Time Act, it established daylight saving time at the same time. Public protest of the idea led to repeal of daylight saving time a year later, and instituting daylight time was left up to municipalities, according to Yacker. But when WWII came along, it was re-established nationally to save fuel costs for the war effort, (Mountain Daylight Time was officially referred to as Mountain War Time, according to and was continuously observed through September,1945.

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After WWII, its use varied among states and localities. Congress put an end to that with The Uniform Time Act of 1966, but allowed for local exemptions from its observance in April and October.  To this day, in fact Hawaii, American Samoa, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, parts of Arizona, and most recently, part of Indiana, are exempt. Arizona, which straddles two time zones, has a climate that favors the evening for sports and other activities. And farmers in Indiana were concerned about lost planting time. They also cited University of California research that would cost Hoosiers much in increased electricity bills, from higher energy costs, as well as increased pollution emissions.

During the energy crisis of the early to mid-seventies, Congress enacted earlier starting dates for daylight time, just as Benjamin Franklin would have appreciated. Congress has tinkered with those dates until The Energy Policy Act of 2005, changing to our present day March and November changeovers.

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