Daylight Savings Time– Another Expensive Relic Of America’s First “Progressive” Era (1890-1920)?

Last weekend, government messed with our lives again.  It forced each of us to set our clocks back an hour and disrupt our routines, sleep and health for days.  This also caused enormous disruption, confusion, and expense for every airline, train, and bus company in America.  Various studies have shown that changing our clocks twice a year disrupts productivity, increases workplace injuries (particularly for construction workers and miners) and robs our economy of anywhere from $433 million to $1.7 billion each year.  (Click here for details from Smart  Why do we do this?

During the elections of 1910, “progressive” Republicans, Democrats, and Socialists won large majorities in both houses of Congress. In 1912, ”progressive” Democrat Woodrow Wilson became President.  Until then, most Americans supported the idea of small, limited government that let each citizen free to make his or her own decisions.  “Progressives” took a far different view.  They claimed that society had become too complicated for most ordinary people to know what was best for them.  Therefore, they demanded government action to force people to do what was best for them.  These “progressives” campaigned for and got laws to ban the use of  liquor, opium, and cocaine in America because they claimed too many Americans had unhappy lives because of them.  They campaigned for and got laws fixing wages when they thought too many people were taking jobs paying to little, and price controls, when they thought Americans were paying too much for certain products.  “Progressives” also campaigned for Daylight Savings Time laws.  They claimed Americans were not healthy because they slept too late in the summer.  When Daylight Savings Time failed to win enough votes in Congress to become law, President Wilson adopted it as a World War One “emergency” by Executive Order without Congress.

Until “progressive” changed politics in America, we measured the hours of the day the same way as the Romans all year round.

William Willett, pictured above with his daughter,  was an influential “progressive” politician in England in 1905.  He thoroughly enjoyed riding horses early before breakfast during the summer.  However, it troubled him that most people in England slept late and missed the opportunity to make productive use of early summer sunshine.  Willett decided to fix that problem by using his political influence to campaign for a new Daylight Savings Time law. That would push every clock in England ahead one hour, and would effectively force everyone in the country to get up an hour earlier during the summer.

This was typical “progressive’ or “socialist” thinking.  “Progressives” and socialists alike believed that modern society is too  complicated to let most people free to decide for themselves what is best for them.  Progressives believed that only smart and educated people like themselves could make those decisions.  Therefore a big, powerful government run by “experts” was needed to force people to do what was best for them.

During the 1900’s “progressives” and socialists campaigned for Daylight Savings Time laws because they believed most people could not be trusted to wake up when it was best for them.   “Progressives” and socialists also campaigned to make liquor, opium, and cocaine illegal.  They believed ordinary people could not be trusted to use them properly.  “Progressives” and socialists campaigned to set minimum wages and fix prices were certain products.  They did not think ordinary people could not be trusted  to demand proper pay for their work, or refusing to buy things if they thought the price was too high.

In their campaigns, “progressives” and socialists claimed, without evidence, that Daylight Savings Time would save electric lighting costs and promote physical fitness.   Railroad, shipping, and other transportation companies were most impacted and opposed Daylight Savings Time the most.  They argued that Daylight Savings Time would achieve nothing good,  but would only cause  unnecessary and expensive expenses and disruptions to their schedules and operations.  “Progressives” and socialists then accused these “big corporations” of greed and putting profits above the welfare of most Americans.

A poster from 1918 encourages citizens to write a postcard and lobby Congress in support of daylight saving time.

In spite of this, there was little support for Daylight Savings Time and the legislation stalled in Congress. However, in 1918 ,  “Progressive” Democratic  President Woodrow Wilson adopted Daylight Savings Time by Executive Order without Congress.  He claimed it was needed as a temporary “emergency” measure to boost war production during World War One.  It was very unpopular.  A newly elected Republican majority in Congress repealed Daylight Savings Time over President Wilson’s veto in 1919.   However, Democratic President Franklin Roosevelt again reinstated Daylight Savings time by executive order as an emergency World War II measure in 1942.  A “progressive” Democratic majority in Congress made Daylight Savings Time permanent in 1975.

Daylight Savings Time, of course does not save any daylight.    The  daylight “given” to us by the government in the evening is “taken” in the morning.   Numerous studies show zero economic benefit to changing our clocks twice a year.    We may use a little less electricity for lights on summer evenings, but we use a lot more for air conditioning.

The idea that a government law can “save” daylight is fairly harmless.   But other “progressive” and “socialist” ideas that government laws can change the economics or human nature are corrupt, expensive, and dangerous.

Government spending doesn’t “create jobs” or “stimulate the economy”.  That is because every dollar it spends on businesses hiring people in one place,  comes from taxes or borrowing that kill jobs elsewhere.

Government laws that made it a crime to sell liquor, marijuana or cocaine simply created more dangerous and violent criminals.

Government minimum wage laws designed to give low wage workers more pay, ended up giving them no jobs.  Government price controls on scarce goods creates more scarcity and higher prices on black markets.

However, the worst part of government efforts to control economic and human behavior is the corruption it creates.  People and businesses should succeed or fail based on their prices and quality of their products and service—not how much political influence they have.

  • We are a group of roughly 150 ordinary citizens who mostly live near Atlantic City, New Jersey. We volunteer our time and money to maintain this website. We do our best to post accurate information. However, we have made mistakes. If you see any mistakes or inaccurate, misleading, outdated, or incomplete information in this or any of our posts, please let us know. We will do our best to correct the problem as soon as possible.
  • If you agree with this post, please share it as much as you can. Please simply click the Twitter or Facebook icons below. Or better yet, please copy the link, or all or part of the content for this post, and paste it in the “comments” section of your local newspaper, your local “micro-newspaper” like, or in any of the unwanted articles from CNN or other “mainstream” spammed into your Facebook feed before an election. 

Seth Grossman, Executive Director

(609) 927-7333

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top