How Daylight Savings Time Was Invented
You may have heard this story about how Daylight Savings Time was invented; one summer morning in Paris, Benjamin Franklin awoke to find summer sunlight streaming through the window. Shocked by this waste of sunlight, he resolved to set the clock ahead one hour in the middle of spring, and one hour back in the middle of fall. Frugal old Ben calculated that this system, which he called “Daylight Savings Time”, would save a huge amount of candle-usage in the summer evenings.
True enough, but economies there may be diseconomies elsewhere, such as in the winter evening. Daylight Savings Time is like sewing a foot of cloth to the top of your bedsheet – cut from the bottom of your bedsheet. Is Daylight Savings Time penny-wise, pound-foolish?
I would like to clarify a long-neglected part of the historical record; namely, what on earth inspired Benjamin Franklin to consider early morning sunlight to be a resource to be conserved and redistributed?
Here is my theory:
“Lêve-toi, ma cherie,” she trilled. “C’est matin!”
Benjamin Franklin sat bolt upright. “Gadzooks,” he cried, clutching the covers to his midriff. “It’s full daylight!”
“ ‘Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise’,” she teased.
“But it’s summer,” he explained. “The sun rises early.”
“Earlier than you, ma chérie,” she teased. “Early to bed? Well, that we were. Early to rise? Well…”
Benjamin Franklin got out of bed. He put on a nightshirt and approached the nightstand. “We burned this candle all evening,” he said with sorrow while looking at the empty candle-holder. “Had we another hour of sunlight, we could have saved a whole candle!”
“Oui, ma chérie,” she agreed. “And had we another hour of night, we could have used a whole candle!”
“But let’s see,” he said as he sat at a desk and picked up a quill. “If we reset the clock every solstice… Hm! Forward an hour, then backward…? Or is it the other way around?”
“Forward, backward, forward, backward…” she murmured.
“Spring forward, fall backward!” he cried.
She sprang forward and grabbed him. After some playful tussling, she stood behind him, massaging his shoulders while he wrote down his new idea.
“What do you call this?” she asked.
“Daylight Savings Time,” he boasted. “By resetting clocks, I can move sunlight from one end of the day to the other!”
“Silly old man,” she said, giggling. “What folly! It is the most absurd scheme I have heard!”
“Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise,” said Benjamin Franklin. He stared wistfully at the full summer sunlight (and he not even dressed yet!) then resumed work on his clever new plan.