On April 13, 1966, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Uniform Time Act into law and standardized what had been a haphazard implementation of Daylight Saving Time (DST) across the country.
Why did the Uniform Time Act come up?
America’s path to a standard time began in 1883 when U.S. and Canadian railroads adopted schedules based on four time zones ― Eastern, Central, Mountain, and Pacific ― to reduce the confusion that resulted from the use of local “sun times”.
The influence of railroads led to the recognition of time zones at the local level until the Standard Time Act of 1918 established standard time for the U.S. with five time zones, including the four above plus a fifth to accommodate Alaska. The bill tasked the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) with determining timezone boundaries.
The Standard Time Act also established a Daylight Saving Time (DST) that was to last from the last Sunday in March to the last Sunday in October, but when World War I ended in 1919 Congress repealed that provision of the bill ― leaving the matter of DST up to state and local governments. That continued until World War II, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt put the U.S. on year-round DST (known as “War Time”) to help with the coordination of the war effort, and when the war ended the federally standardized DST was lifted once again.
There proved to be a lot of problems with allowing states and cities to choose when DST was in effect, particularly for the communications and transportation sectors, so in 1961 the ICC told Congress to come up with a solution. In 1965, the year before the Uniform Time Act became law, observance of DST was particularly chaotic in the Midwest: within the state of Iowa there were 23 different start and end times for DST, and St. Paul, Minnesota started DST two weeks before its twin city, Minneapolis.
What did the Uniform Time Act do?
The Uniform Time Act mandated standard time within the established time zones and provided for DST beginning at 2:00am on the last Sunday in April and end at 2:00am on the last Sunday in October.
States were allowed to opt out of DST only if the entire state did so, which Arizona and Hawaii did (although the Navajo Nation observes DST on its lands in Arizona). Additionally, the commonwealths and territories of Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands opted out of observing DST.
What has happened with DST in the U.S. since?
Congress broadened the DST exception to let states exempt either the entire state of part of the state that lies within a different time zone in 1972. It also enacted a trial period of year-round DST aimed at saving energy during the oil crisis in 1974, before returning the summer DST the following year. In 2005, Congress extended DST by moving its start date up to the second Sunday in March and its end date to the first Sunday in November, which remains in effect today.
On several occasions, Congress directed federal agencies to report on the effects of a longer DST on energy savings, traffic safety, and other matters:
- A 1975 Dept. of Transportation report suggested “modest overall benefits might be realized by a shift from the historic six-month DST [to year-round DST] in areas of energy conservation, overall traffic safety, and reduced violent crime.”
- A 2008 Dept. of Energy report found that total electricity from saved expanded DST corresponded to 0.03% of electricity consumption in 2007 and areas in the northern U.S. exhibited larger electricity savings than there southern counterpart. The report lacked evidence to determine if it increased gasoline consumption or traffic volume.
There’s a possibility that more changes to how DST is observed in the U.S. could be on the way. President Donald Trump has tweeted that “Making Daylight Saving Time permanent is O.K. with me!” There are two bills in the 116th Congress that’d modify DST:
- Rep. Rob Bishop’s (R-UT) Daylight Act would allow states to choose to either continue with the status quo, operate under year-round DST, or operate under year-round standard time.
- The Sunshine Protection Act, sponsored by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-FL) in their respective chambers, would transition the U.S. to year-round DST (with exceptions for the states and territories which don’t observe it).
— Eric Revell
(Photo Credit: LBJ Library via Wikimedia / Public Domain)
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