Monday, November 5, 2007

The daylight savings time myth

Ben Franklin was many things: an author, printer, politician, scientist, inventor, and diplomat. But he wasn’t the inventor of daylight savings time. Many people think so because in 1784 he did write – anonymously at the time – a satirical letter suggesting that Parisians save money on candles by getting up with the sun. But he didn’t suggest changing the time.

No, it was William Willett who invented DST so he could finish his golf game before dusk. DST was adopted by much of Europe in 1916, a year after Willett went to the big 19th hole in the sky, and by the US in 1918.

Actually it was the ancients who invented the ultimate DST, dividing daylight into 12 equal hours regardless of the day’s length. In Rome, timekeepers used water clocks with different scales for different months of the year to make the hour 44 minutes at the winter solstice and 75 minutes at the summer solstice.

Some things never change: after thousands of years, we are still looking for new ways to save time. Now if we could only find a way for people and governments to save money. Ben Franklin, where are you when we need you the most?

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