Sun, 03/01/2009 - 11:23

Benjamin Franklin was right - turning the clock saves on ... candles

If in the first week of April you suddenly feel faint, sleepy, lose your appetite, your sense of coordination and get a headache, don't blame your boss, the kids or your partner. What you should attribute these symptoms to is the lack of sleep caused by the turning of the clock forward by one hour. Summer time in the EU, including Bulgaria this year falls on 29 March, and makes the day longer at the expense of getting up earlier in the morning. In the opinion of doctors and biologists, the human body takes about a week to deal with the stress caused by changing time.

Most people living in countries with a temperate climate are exposed to such stress because of the big difference between the length of the days in winter and in summer. The general idea of summer time is so that people can take advantage of the longer days and for their activities to coincide with daylight hours.

This human aspiration is nothing new – ancient civilisations were also influenced by the sun. In the Roman Empire, every daylight hour was longer in the summer. With the introduction of time uniformity, such liberty is no longer possible – the hour is equally long in all parts of the world, in spite of the season. A few exceptions to this rule include some of the monasteries on Mount Athos that still use the system of "unequal hours" from ancient times.

Merchants, and sportsmen who train in the open air, welcome the extra hour of daylight, but its effect is quite the opposite for farmers whose activities are determined by the sun rather than the clock, and for the owners of evening establishments whose working hours are shortened because of the longer day.

It is not clear whether turning the clock forward reduces the number of road accidents – the risk decreases in the evening because it is still light, but increases in the dusky mornings when children go to school and drivers are still feeling sleepy. It is the same with crime – there is no precise data on whether there is a reduction in crime in the evening hours.

These potential benefits are not the main rationale behind the introduction of summer time. The idea for moving the clock forward had purely economic grounds – saving daylight and, later on, fuel and electricity as well.

The first champion of this rational idea was Benjamin Franklin. He did not actually suggest the idea – in the 18th Century that would have been impossible, at the very least because time had not been made uniform yet, which would take place later with the introduction of railways and the telegraph.

The author of the saying, "Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise," laid the foundations for turning the clock forward. In 1784, Franklin, then an American Ambassador to France, stumbled upon a candle bill in Paris. Being the son of a Boston candlemaker, he made an amazing discovery: if Parisians were to rise an hour earlier, they would save one million francs a year. The idea, published in an anonymous letter to the editors of the Journal de Paris, was not adopted but this invention of Franklin's took its rightful place along with the rest: establishing the University of Pennsylvania, his contribution to the drawing up of the Declaration of Independence and the constitution of the United States, and the invention of the lightning conductor.

A little over a century later, the rational use of daylight would arouse the interest of an English construction entrepreneur – William Willett, the author of the concept of summer time. According to legend, the idea occurred to him in 1905. During his regular morning ride, he noticed that Londoners slept through the summer mornings and that, because of the onset of dusk, he would have to cut short his afternoon golf game.

Two years later, Willett had solved the problems and financed the publishing of the lampoon, The Waste of Daylight, himself. He suggested that clocks gain 20 minutes a day for four consecutive Sundays in April and then be turned back in September. Until his death in 1915, Willett lobbied unsuccessfully for Parliament to pass a bill to this effect. Summer time was favourably looked upon by some MPs, and the young Winston Churchill.

Willett's idea was not good enough in time of peace but gained popularity with the advent of the First World War. In an attempt to save coal for the wartime economy, Germany and its allies were the first to introduce summer time by turning the clock forward by one hour on 30 April 1916. Britain, its allies and some neutral countries followed in their footsteps. A year later, Russia and Australia jumped on the bandwagon, followed in 1918 by the United States. This practice was abandoned after the end of the war.

It was adopted again by the Nazis in 1940 because of the Second World War. President Roosevelt introduced summer time all year round between between 1942 and 1945, and called it war time. The same rationale – saving fuel – was behind the introduction of summer time again in most European countries because of the oil crisis in 1973.

Today, summer time has been introduced in 76 countries in the world. The exact dates on which clocks are turned forward vary from country to country and sometimes from year to year. European countries, with the exception of Iceland, which enjoys its long Arctic summer of constant daylight, have changed their clocks on the same date since 1996 – on the last Sunday of March and October. The United States and Canada have adopted extended summer time since 2007, from the second Sunday of March to the first Sunday of November.

The advantages of summer time are debatable. There is still no convincing evidence to support the basic rationale behind the introduction of summer time – saving fuel. Research conducted by the Transport Department of the United States in 1975 showed that changing the clock reduces fuel consumption by about one percent a day.

A year later, additional research by the National Bureau of Standards of the United States cast doubt over the conclusions reached. According to their research, the reduction in electricity consumption was insignificant.

In 2008, scientists from the University of California, Santa Barbara, announced the results of a study in Indiana, where summer time had been introduced throughout the entire state in 2006 (previously it had been adopted only by a few counties). They compared energy consumption before and after the introduction of summer time. "We found that daylight time caused a one percent overall increase in residential electricity use, though the effect varied from month to month. The greatest increase occurred in late summer and early fall, when electricity use rose by two percent to four percent," wrote Professor Matthew J. Kotchen in The New York Times. This resulted in household bills in Indiana rising to almost $9,000,000 a year. The reason? Summer time reduced the use of electricity for lighting but increased morning electricity consumption for heaters in the spring and autumn, and evening electricity consumption for air-conditioners in the summer.

In March 2008, a woman from Montana, northwestern Bulgaria, wrote to the European Parliament about the questionable advantages of changing the time. She wrote in her letter to EMP Marusya Lyubcheva: "Turning the clock forward by an hour is an anachronism." Perhaps she is right. Summer time will do if your intention is to save on candles, but it does not reduce energy consumption.


Summer time was introduced on 1 April 1979 on the European model. People who witnessed the clock changing in the Second World War associate summer time with other wartime innovations like rationing and sirens. Others are simply content to have the longer day.

This year summer time will begin at 3 am on 29 March and will continue until 4 am on 26 October when the clock will be turned back by one hour to 3 am astronomical time.

The Hand Of Puritanism?

"I don't really care how time is reckoned so long as there is some agreement about it, but I object to being told that I am saving daylight when my reason tells me that I am doing nothing of the kind. I even object to the implication that I am wasting something valuable if I stay in bed after the sun has risen. As an admirer of moonlight I resent the bossy insistence of those who want to reduce my time for enjoying it. At the back of the Daylight Saving scheme I detect the bony, blue–fingered hand of Puritanism, eager to push people into bed earlier, and get them up earlier, to make them healthy, wealthy and wise in spite of themselves."

Robertson Davies, The Diary of Samuel Marchbanks, 1947

Issue 30

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