DST

From my grad school colleague Evan Roberts, a blog post from four years ago about Daylight Saving Time, which begins again today:

Two Cities, Two Times

Check the date! No fooling today. In May 1965 Saint Paul actually did do daylight saving time differently than Minneapolis. At the time the Twin Cities’ discordant time change was the best example yet of absurd inconsistencies across America in recognizing daylight saving time. Today the story is both a cute curiosity of local history, but also offers some parables about the downsides of having too many levels of government involved in decisions.

Like the Southwest light rail decision, the path to Minneapolis and Saint Paul ending up on different times was a long one. Until the nineteenth century most people lived by sun time, with their hours of labor and leisure governed by when the sun rose and set. Clock time was unnecessary on farms and in small villages where people could rely on encountering each other frequently. But towns and cities needed clock time for coordinating peoples’ daily encounters, and railroads needed clock time to ensure safe operation. Without great need to co-ordinate across places, towns and cities set their own time, and by the 1870s America had hundreds of different standard times that varied by mere minutes as one moved east or west. In theory it was easy to adjust, but in practice it was a lot of work, and particularly unsafe on busy railroads. Thus in November 1883 the railroads adopted the four basic time zones we have today. Notably, no government promulgated the new time zones. It was not until World War I that the federal government passed any legislation establishing America’s time.

Daylight saving time was also an urban invention. Misunderstood at its birth, as it still is, daylight saving time was an efficient solution to a problem urban workers living about 35° and 55° north (or south) of the equator faced in the summer. Without daylight saving time, the hours of daylight got longer in both the early morning and the late evening. Yet because many people have a strong preference to socialize and amuse themselves in the evening, the early morning light was wasted. Uniformly changing the clock to summer time could solve in one stroke what would otherwise be a co-ordination problem of everyone agreeing to get up earlier or re-schedule activities to allow more evening leisure time in the daylight.

After being proposed for several decades daylight saving time received a major boost in World War I when it was adopted as an energy saving measure by both Britain and Germany. When the United States entered the war it too introduced daylight saving for the summer of 1918. At wars end the federal government retained control of standard time, but left daylight saving time as a local matter.

Between the world wars Minneapolis, not Saint Paul, was more enthusiastic about daylight saving time. With London financial markets observing daylight saving time informally, the New York Stock Exchange followed daylight saving time, which meant the Chicago Board of Trade did, which meant the Minneapolis Grain Exchange did. In 1920, the city of Minneapolis even held a one-off referendum on adopting citywide daylight saving time. While the measure passed overwhelmingly, the City Council felt turnout had been too low to justify enacting the ordinance. Yet city businesses, particularly those connected to the financial markets were compelled to follow daylight saving time business hours while businesses further east did so. World War II again brought daylight saving time to the United States as a energy saving measure, and was extended year-round for the duration of the war. Still unpopular in rural areas, and not widely popular in cities, Congress reverted daylight saving time to local control in 1945.

Divided fairly equally between its urban and rural areas daylight saving time was a controversial topic in 1950s Minnesota. Farmers were heavily opposed, and dominated the legislature, which had not been redistricted since the early 1920s. Eventually in 1957 Minnesota passed a statewide daylight saving time bill, which made two compromises to state passions on the issue. It established the nation’s shortest season of daylight saving time, from Memorial Day to Labor Day; and allowed counties to set their own daylight saving time if they wished. The discretion for counties to set their own time was seen as an option that Hennepin, Ramsey, and St Louis counties might take up. But drive-in movie theater owners—who had a very obvious stake in maintaining an early sunset—sued and the State Supreme Court eliminated counties’ discretion to set their own time. Minnesota’s short daylight saving time solved its own political problems, but put it out of sync with its neighbors. Wisconsin had daylight saving time for six months from April to October, while North Dakota had no daylight saving time at all.

In 1965 the issues came to a head. On the western side of the state, Moorhead and Breckinridge stayed on standard time. In the east, confusion reigned. Winona, Duluth, Two Harbors and Silver Bay moved onto daylight saving time when Wisconsin did on the last Sunday in April. Duluth’s actions prompted the Iron Range towns of Tower, Ely and Soudan to move onto daylight saving time the next weekend. In Hibbing the city council waited until Friday, 30 April to vote to start daylight saving time on Sunday. The next day they voted again, and decided they should wait until May 10.

While the confusion in Minnesota’s smaller cities was comical, the Twin Cities’ disagreement attracted national attention. Prompted by the increasing integration of the metro area’s eastern side with western Wisconsin, the Saint Paul City Council voted on Tuesday, May 4 that the city would move to daylight saving time on Sunday, two weeks ahead of state law. Disregarding the fury of the Governor, the majority of the state legislature, and Minneapolis mayor Arthur Naftalin, Saint Paul carried out its time change. For two weeks the two cities were on different times. Naftalin admitted Minneapolis would like to move to daylight saving time, but argued fidelity to state law was more important. For neither the first nor the last time, it seemed the two cities were determined not to co-operate.

There’s more at the link.

Changing the clocks, especially in the spring when we lose an hour, is deeply offensive to some people, but I don’t particularly mind. It’s just something that you have to deal with, like bad weather or SACS-COC assessment. At least we’ve all agreed that we should do it together! I experienced a situation similar to the Twin Cities in 1965 on my recent travels. In Jerusalem, I fell in with a group of pilgrims from South Africa, who invited me to visit the Dead Sea with them. “The bus leaves tomorrow at 7:30,” their leader said. I was looking forward to this, because they seemed like nice people, and who wouldn’t want to visit the Dead Sea? My watch battery had died, but no worries, I had my iPhone. I set the alarm for 7:00, got up, and went to breakfast… but none of the South Africans was there. I was also surprised to discover that the booking office was already open – the sign said that it opened at 7:45. I went down to the front desk and they told me that the group had already left. It took a good bit of conversation to establish that my phone was an hour behind… on account of my visiting the West Bank the previous day. That is, Israeli Daylight Saving Time was set to end early the next morning (Sunday, as it does in the US), but the Palestinians end their daylight saving time 48 hours earlier, probably as a matter of principle – and my phone still thought it was in the Territories. So I missed the bus on account of the long-simmering Arab-Israeli conflict.

(See also one of the Darwin Awards for 1999.)