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Daylight Savings Time of World War I Ended


There is a familiar phrase that accompanies the change of seasons in modern times. It goes like this: “Spring Ahead; Fall Back.” In springtime we set our clocks ahead one hour, and when fall arrives, we move our clocks back one hour. This rhythm of the seasons and the movement of the clock’s hour-hand governs our time and somehow gives us another magical hour of daylight.

You might not be familiar with the origins of Daylight Saving Time, for it began during World War I as a way to help win the war. Germany adopted it in 1916 to make more weapons and ammunition during daytime hours. Other nations in Europe followed.

When the U.S. entered World War I in 1917, it was on regular-time, called “sun-time.” Advocates of Daylight Saving Time lobbied for it as a way to save energy, and Congress, after long argument, passed the law in March, 1918, putting Daylight Saving Time into effect on March 31st.

The change made some North Dakotans lose track of time. In Bismarck, several churchgoers showed up for early mass at St. Mary’s and “sat for an hour in a deserted church before the remainder of the congregation filed in and . . . services began.”

A policeman mistakenly turned his clocks back an hour instead of ahead an hour and ended up two hours behind everyone. Farmers remained largely unaffected by the time change, because they worked from dawn to dusk anyway, except they had to check their watches to know when noontime came, rather than looking at the sun. But the average citizen adjusted to the new time and used the extra hour of daylight after the workday for recreation or gardening.

The wartime Daylight Saving Time lasted for seven months, and it was on this date, in 1918, that the Grand Forks Herald reminded its readers that the U.S. was returning to its old “Sun Time” on October 27th.

Experts said Daylight Saving Time helped the war effort, saving 1.25 million tons of coal. Oddly enough, Daylight Saving Time was abandoned thereafter, until reinstated during World War II and becoming permanent in 1966.

The most-humorous response to the 1918 savings-time law came from a farmer in Edgeley puzzled because his rooster insisted on crowing at daybreak. The farmer could not figure out how to get his rooster adjusted to the newfangled daylight saving time.

Dakota Datebook written by Dr. Steve Hoffbeck, MSU Moorhead History Department.

Sources: “All Clocks To Stop One Hour Sunday, 2 A.M.,” Grand Forks Herald, October 26, 1918, p. 6.

“Clocks Move Ahead An Hour,” Grand Forks Herald, March 30, 1918, p. 10.

“Daylight To Be Saved In Grand Forks,” Grand Forks Herald, March 20, 1918, p. 10.

“Need For Daylight Saving,” New York Times, December 3, 1917, p. 6.

“Many Bismarck Folk Lost Track Of Time Sunday,” Bismarck Tribune, April 1, 1918, p. 1.

“Daylight Saving Bill Signed By President,” New York Times, March 20, 1918, p. 14.

“A Farmer At Edgeley,” Ward County Independent [Minot, ND], April 11, 1918, p. 15.

“Uniform Time,” U.S. Department of Transportation, "" , accessed on September 19, 2016.