Going Back In Time

At 2:00 a.m. Sunday morning it will be time for Americans to once again reset all of their clocks and watches. Daylight Savings time is back.

As we set our clocks back, few of us may realize where Daylight Savings time came from. It goes back a lot further than you might think.

Benjamin Franklin is widely credited with the idea in a pamphlet he wrote in 1784, while he was America's representative in France. A highly practical man, Franklin was shocked by the way Parisians wasted candles and reckoned that his own country could save millions of candles a year by observing Daylight Saving time.

The idea took a long time to catch on.

It was an Englishman who resurrected it at the beginning of this century. William Willet, a successful building contractor, was taking his early morning ride one summer in 1906 when it struck him how many houses he passed with their shutters closed.

Willet was an habitual early riser and wondered why people stayed in bed after sunrise waiting for the clock to tell them when to get up.

"Why should man be the slave of the clock?" he asked. "Why shouldn't we have an extra hour's daylight by the simple expedient of putting forward the hands of the clock?"

CBS News Senior European Correspondent Tom Fenton
It apparently did not occur to him that not all of his fellow countrymen were as eager as he was to jump out of bed at the crack of dawn. It was not until 1916, after he died, that Daylight Saving time became law in Britain.

It was World War One and the need to save fuel that forced the law through Parliament. Even then, many people objected that Britain should not be on "German time."

The United States followed suit at the very end of the war, but the law was repealed in 1920 because of its unpopularity.

Some Christian fundamentalists objected that the government was interfering with God's time, overlooking the fact that minutes, hours and time zones are all man's inventions.

It was not until 1942 that Congress reinstated Daylight Saving time, again because of war.

Some 70 countries now observe daylight saving time, setting back countless time pieces.

Perhaps if Benjamin Franklin or William Willet had lived in a house full of electronic clocks, VCR's, automatic ovens and other devices requiring complicated re-setting, they might have thought twice about the idea.

By Tom Fenton
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