Editor’s note: The Trivia Geek is off on one of his unexpected sabbaticals (probably “celebrating” the fourth birthday of Windows XP), but he did remember to supply this slightly modified Classic Geek, which originally ran on March 31, 2004, from our archives to tide you over. Fresh Geek Trivia will return on Nov. 9, 2005.
This weekend, during the wee hours of Sunday, October 30, several countries will move their clocks back an hour to account for the end of Daylight Saving Time, also known as Summer Time. By design, Daylight Saving Time helps prevent the squandering of daylight on morning hours when a sizable percentage of the population is asleep, thereby saving energy spent on artificial light and appliances in the evenings and improving general goodwill by extending the sunlit hours of the day.
That’s not bad for an idea originally proposed as a joke. Of course, the prankster in question was none other than Benjamin Franklin, from whom even a facetious idea was quite likely to have practical merit.
In a possible reference to Jonathan Swift’s 1729 essay “A Modest Proposal,” wherein the author of Gulliver’s Travels caustically suggests that the impoverished and underfed Irish people resort to cannibalism, Franklin wrote “An Economical Project” in 1784. In the essay, the founding father suggested several half-serious methods to force stereotypically late-sleeping Parisians to awaken at sunrise, even during the early dawns of summer, rather than waste candles staying awake half the night.
The essay was sheer parody, with Franklin mocking both his own reputation for frugality and the comical caricature of lazy Parisians. However, many historians consider “An Economical Project” to be the first domino in a chain of events that would create Daylight Saving Time—more than a century later.
While adjusting the settings of clocks was not one of Franklin’s economical solutions, he rather eloquently broached the problem of candles wasted in summertime. He even made rough calculations of the costs incurred by such waste.
The numbers alone presented an issue that was worthy of redress. However, a formal proposition—let alone implementation—of anything resembling the current form of Daylight Saving Time wouldn’t occur until the 20th century.
WHO CREATED THE FIRST FORMAL PROPOSAL FOR A DAYLIGHT SAVING TIME PLAN?
Who developed the first formal proposal for a Daylight Saving Time plan, seriously addressing the problem that Benjamin Franklin facetiously set forth in his “An Economical Project” essay in 1784?
The true inventor of Daylight Saving Time was William Willet, a London builder who published the 1907 booklet The Waste of Daylight.
Willet had come to the same economic conclusions as Franklin. The early sunrises in summer meant that workers were sleeping through useful daylight hours and that using light and heat in the unnecessarily early evenings was wasting energy.
Willet’s solution, however, was somewhat more oblique than the one-hour, twice-yearly temporal adjustments we make today. He suggested advancing English clocks 20 minutes on each of four Sundays in April and reversing the process over four Sundays in September.
Willet also recommended that the switchover take place at 2 A.M., as it does in some countries today, but this wee hour did nothing to win popularity for his plan. Indeed, the British Parliament repeatedly dismissed bills supporting Willet’s time-change proposals.
In fact, it was the Germans who first adopted a form of Daylight Saving Time in 1915. Britain wouldn’t do so until 1916, when the energy shortages of World War I made even the most unconventional conservation scheme attractive.
Of course, the practice fell out of use after the war. It wouldn’t witness a revival until World War II, when the United States would enact a temporary Daylight Saving Time measure.
The application of Daylight Saving Time often varies by region and country, which typically led to some measure of confusion. But the usefulness of “conserving” daylight in summer months had been too readily evident during WWII for its adoption to recede again.
Today, much of the Western world observes Daylight Saving Time in some measure, though the exact start and end dates and times remain inconsistent across national borders.
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The Quibble of the Week
If you uncover a questionable fact or debatable aspect of this week’s Geek Trivia, just post it in the discussion area of the article. Every week, yours truly will choose the best post from the assembled masses and discuss it in the next edition of Geek Trivia. (To see the original quibble from this article, see Listing A.)
This week’s quibble comes from the October 5 edition of Geek Trivia, “Full (moon) circle.” As usual, my choice of imprecise language tripped me up, and TechRepublic member Jshambaugh called me out for it this time.
“My quibble is with the following statement: ‘Apollo capsules could only land on lunar latitudes within five degrees of the moon’s equator, essentially guaranteeing that many of the most scientifically appealing landing sites were off-limits.’ The Apollo capsule remained in orbit around the moon while the Lunar Module (LM) descended to the moon’s surface with two astronauts aboard.”
You’re quite right, dear reader. I should have said Apollo spacecraft—not Apollo capsules. Thanks for the edit-at-large, and keep those quibbles coming.
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The Trivia Geek, also known as Jay Garmon, is a former advertising copywriter and Web developer who’s duped TechRepublic into underwriting his affinity for movies, sci-fi, comic books, technology, and all things geekish or subcultural.