When you turned back by one hour your clocks, watches, microwaves and thermostats this morning, most of the nation did the same. It wasn't always so simple.
In fact, for decades, the fight over "fast time," "summer time," "Wilson time," "war time," "Bolshevik time" or "standard time," "slow time," "God's time" — the varied names for it depended on how you viewed the issue — roiled Congress, the state legislatures and city councils. The result was a confounding patchwork of conflicting times.
Though the original arguments for daylight saving time centered around saving energy during wartime, it quickly became a pitched battle between urban lifestyle vs. rural realities. City office workers liked getting an extra hour of sunlight during the summer to enjoy the lakefront, attend a baseball game, go golfing or spend time with the family. But farmers argued they couldn't shift their work so easily. They couldn't work as efficiently in the dew-laden fields in the early morning, but hired hands wanted to be home at the new dinner time to be with families. The shift effectively shortened the working day. The dairy men reported that the milk truck arrived to pick up the morning's production an hour too early: the cows simply wouldn't produce. If those cityfolk want to enjoy more daylight, they argued, why do they need to mess with "God's time"? Just get out of bed when you needed to and leave "sun time" alone.
The nation rallied around President Woodrow Wilson's appeal to patriotism, though, and daylight saving time was adopted nationwide in 1918. From the beginning, though, exceptions popped up. The first year, it fell on Easter Sunday. Lest the faithful miss the most important Mass of the year, the Archdiocese of Chicago decreed Mass schedules would remain on standard time that day, even as the rest of the nation switched.
After the war, foes of "Wilson time" took the issue to Congress. And if you think time management didn't excite people, consider that the repealing of daylight saving time was one of the rare bills to be approved by Congress, vetoed by the president, come through Congress a second time, get vetoed a second time — and then become law through a veto override.
But the "slow time" folks' victory at the federal level proved to be a Pyrrhic one. Cities across the nation — including Chicago — adopted their own ordinances, often over the objections of farming interests in the state legislatures. (Indeed, Chicago twice had to beat back efforts by the General Assembly to ban daylight saving time. One of its most successful arguments was that the metro area would simply ignore a state ban.)
But living on an island of "fast time" led to confusion.
While city trains operated in "summer time," interstate trains remained on standard time, as did the Union Station clock. For Evanston, Oak Park and other Cook County municipalities that switched when Chicago did, the railroad schedule was straightforward. But many outlying suburbs didn't change. A story in April 1923 detailed which of the suburban railways were adopting daylight saving time, which were staying on standard time but running trains an hour earlier and which were doing both.
The confusion only grew over the years as daylight saving time was adopted by more cities and states. The problem was not only between "fast time" areas and "slow time" areas, but also in the varied start and stop dates. A Sept. 28, 1958, story explained how Wisconsin and California reverted that day to standard time, as did about 300 of the 800 Illinois communities that enjoyed "sun time." But the Chicago metro area had another month to go, more in line with New York and the rest of the East Coast. Minnesota, on the other hand, had switched Sept. 2. And Indiana? Flashback doesn't have the space — or time — to untangle that mess.
As air travel, long-distance phone calls and faster automobiles knitted the nation together, knowing the local time became ever more important to conduct business, interact with the government or enjoy a show while on vacation.
Finally, in 1967, daylight saving time became mandatory under federal law, unless a state sought exemption.
Daylight saving time: 2 steps forward, one hour back
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