It's About Time
Don’t lose it
This is an entry in the Saturday series of Timeless & Timely called “Off the Clock.” A newsletter for word nerds. Make sure you don’t miss a single issue.
“I wasted time, and now time doth waste me” — William Shakespeare, c. 1595
Welcome to the shortest weekend of the year. Ugh.
That’s right: it’s the weekend when Daylight Saving Time kicks in (not “savings,” thank you very much).
So while those of you in the United States (with exceptions in Arizona and Hawaii) have an hour less this weekend, here are some facts about DST to ponder.
It wasn’t started by Benjamin Franklin.
Franklin often is mistaken as the father of DST because of a satirical letter he wrote to the authors of The Journal of Paris, in which he calculated the money that could have been saved on candles, should Parisians go to bed at a reasonable hour and rise with the sun.
He estimated some 96 million livres toumois could be saved. Now that’s literally daylight savings.
His letter involved a proposed change in sleep habits rather than the clock. But in doing so, he recognized what has become the bane of our modern-day changing of the clocks:
“All the difficulty will be in the first two or three days, after which the reformation will be as natural and easy as the present irregularity; for, Ce n’est que le premier pas qui coûte. [It is only the first step that is demanding.]”
Daylight Saving Time was not implemented to benefit farmers
Contrary to popular belief, farmers were not advocates of DST. In fact, the agriculture industry was deeply opposed to the time change when it was first implemented 1918 as a wartime measure.
Farms run on the schedule of nature and the sun. So when milk shipping schedules shifted by an hour, the cows weren’t yet ready to be milked (even after 100 years, cows still can’t tell time).
Okay, here’s where you’d expect “Off the Clock” to chime in. When it comes to the descriptors for Daylight Saving Time around Europe, things can get officially confusing.
When the clocks are moved an hour ahead in the UK, it’s called British Summer Time, or BST. When they go back, the UK is on Greenwich Mean Time. Europe uses Western European Summer Time (WEST), Central European Summer Time (CEST), and Eastern European Summer Time (EEST). In Ireland, there is Irish Standard Time, or IST.
Time as a service
It’s fortunate we have smartphones to give us the correct time today. In London in 1836, there was no reliable way to set your clocks and watches.
Enter John Belville, royal astronomer at the Royal Naval Observatory in Greenwich.
He had a watch (set by the official time at the observatory) that kept perfect time. So he offered a subscription service to Londoners. This was of particular interest to clockmakers, who needed a way to reliably set the time.
For 20 years, Belville charged an annual fee and he visited hundreds of clients with his pocket watch in tow so they could set their clocks. When he died in 1856, his wife Ruth took over the service and ran it for another 36 years until 1892.
That’s all the time we have this week. We’ll see you back here next week for more issues of Timeless & Timely.
Thanks, and I’ll see you on the internet.