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“God Knows More about Time Than President Wilson”: Letters against Daylight Saving

The quest for efficiency touched nearly every aspect of American life during World War I, including the nation’s clocks. Daylight saving first appeared during the war years as an experiment to save fuel. Theoretically, people would use less artificial light in the evenings thanks to the extra hour of daylight. Urban dwellers generally delighted in the “extra hour,” but protests by farmers and other rural citizens brought the experiment to an end after only one year. Farmers, rural Americans, and those whose jobs forced them to work very early hours disliked the measure intensely. They bombarded Congress with petitions, letters, and angry telegrams demanding the return to “God’s time.” According to farmers, city dwellers who wanted more leisure in the afternoon could just show up for work an hour earlier and leave an hour earlier.

From time to time we have received from readers expressions of opinion with regard to daylight saving. Space has heretofore been lacking to print these; and we have been living in hope that enough of our subscribers would support daylight saving to make the thing more of a discussion and less of a love feast. However practically all! of our readers who were sufficiently interested to express an opinion are of one mind. In a way, the matter has been disposed of by the passage of the repealer over the presidential veto; but we anticipate there is still interest in the merits of the question. Accordingly we present the accompanying expressions.—The Editor.

To the Editor of the Scientific American:

If you will try it out personally, observing the hours that govern the city clerk or laboring man, I believe that you will decide that God knows more about time than President Wilson does.

C. W. Browne.

Kansas City.


To the Editor of the Scientific American:

Why not drop the farmer’s woes for a moment and consider those of the seven-o’clock worker? He requires on the average at least thirty minutes to get to work. He must leave home by 6:30, which means 5:30 by sun time; accordingly for by far the greater part of the summer he must breakfast by artificial light. Worse; whoever gets his breakfast and packs his dinner pail must by up by 4:00 or 4:30, sun time. In the face of this, if eight hours' sleep are to be had, these people must be in bed while it is still broad daylight for a good part of the season. There are plenty of seven-o’clock workers, in spite of the eight-hour day; there will always be seven-o’clock workers preparing the way for the eight- and nine-o’clock arrivals, taking them to work, etc. Surely this class added to that of the farmer would give the majority against daylight saving.

E. J. Hutchinson.

Hampton, Va.


To the Editor of the Scientific American:

The thing about the daylight controversy that strikes me most forcibly is the claim that the farmer is not sincere in his protest that he cannot work when the dew is in the fields. I have many acquaintances who get great enjoyment out of the early evening game of golf which the retarded clock permits them. I have asked these gentlemen why they cannot leave business an hour earlier and get in the same time on the links, and the very reasonable reply is that they must accommodate their business hours to the general custom. Then I ask them why they do not, in that event, get up early in the morning and play before going to business, and the very unreasonable reply is given, with an expression of horror, that one can’t play a decent game of golf with the grass soaking wet. Yet when the farmer makes a similar claim he is profiteering!

C. C.

New York.


To the Editor of the Scientific American:

Occasionally one hears of cities that have staggered hours of opening business for the establishments in different lines of work. One group goes to work at six, another at 6:30, etc. Now if this works out to the worker’s satisfaction—and I assume it does or it would not be done—it would seem to be evidence that everybody can start work an hour earlier without tinkering with the clock. All that would be required would be getting used to it.

In the country the farmer rises according to the urgency of the work and the light provided him to work by. The city worker could do the same no matter what the clocks said. Save daylight by all means, but go about it right. Don’t try to sugar-coat the bitter pill of early rising by manipulating the clock, but just start in an hour or two sooner.

D. Emrich.

Buchanan, Ia.


To the Editor of the Scientific American:

Your editorials on daylight saving seem reasonable enough, yet I remain unconvinced. Cannot city people or at least suburbanites rise early and work in their gardens or even take a joy ride before breakfast?

Farmers are compelled to adjust themselves to nature. They are not guilty of wasting daylight. In rural districts the villagers have so adjusted their hours that the farmers can come to town and spend their money in the evening. Hence towns have been led to establish late hours.

It should appeal to a scientific man that telling the truth about the time is to be encouraged. With a common basis of time we can work out a better adjustment by stirring up those who have been wasting the morning hours. The United States is after all an agricultural country, and it is worse than useless to crowd farmers into threshing out of the shock when the dew is on. Let us all pull together in peace as in war.

Hector Maiben.

Palmyra, Wash.


To the Editor of the Scientific American:

My objection is to the necessity of changing the clock in order to bring about early rising. We all know, as you say, that no daylight can be created. The farmer can easily utilize the sunlight on both sides of the noon hour, but the other man finds his recreation hours divided between morning and evening. So in order to combine them he sleeps mornings and retires later at night. While we are deciding the question, why not kill two birds with one stone and consider our health as well as daylight saving? Are we not able to do what our ancestors did by getting up early without juggling the clock to deceive ourselves?

What we want is some arrangement whereby people who want daylight saving may have it, while those who do not want it may leave it alone, and people who do not benefit would be able to take it or leave it. As the thing is run under the daylight saving plan of 1918 and 1919, the city dweller wants all the benefit without any of the inconveniences. If he must have a long, light evening, let him pay for it himself by getting up earlier and getting his work done earlier; it can be done that way. Some of the railroad men here make up their eight-hour day by working from 7 A. M. to 4 P. M. This illustrates my point to a nicety, why is it not feasible to go to work an hour earlier, if you want to, without changing the clock?

G. W. Angus.

Penn Yan, N. Y.


To the Editor of the Scientific American:

Would it not be a good idea, if we are to have all this fuss about time, to make a change along the following lines:

At present, when it is five o’clock in New York it is two o’clock in San Francisco, and three o’clock or four o’clock in intermediate places. This makes necessary a good deal of translation from the time of one zone to that of another, and is in many ways a great nuisance. The traveler on entering Pittsburgh is never sure whether given clock is registering Eastern or Central time; he has to change his own timepiece en route, etc.

The success which the daylight-saving plan has met in some quarters, and the suggestions that we should shift our working day without shifting the clock, both would indicate that it really does not make much difference what we call a given hour. It is the degree of light obtaining at that hour which counts. Why not have a single time system for the entire country, so that when the clock says one o’clock in one place it is one o’clock everywhere. That would greatly simplify all things having to do with intercourse between the sections of the country. Then all that would be necessary to adjust the working day to the daylight hours would be for the various states or municipalities to pass laws setting legal noon at, say 10 o’clock in the extreme east and 1:30 in the extreme west. This particular choice of figures assumes that the national time is that of the sun in the extreme westerly section of the present Central Time-zone. Under a different arrangement the hours of legal noon would be different; but the main point would be to have it come in the middle of the working day, or, if a given locality wanted it so, in some other part. All problems of daylight saving would then be automatically disposed of.

P. G. J.



To the Editor of the Scientific American:

Personally I am not affected in the least, and would not be opposed to daylight saving if it benefited anybody. But in the present form it is unscientific, unjust and undemocratic: for it could just as well be forcing it on those who are harmed by it.

Why not let each community, each mill and factory, each mine and railroad, decide upon its own daylight-saving problems? Why not put it to the vote of the workers in each industrial unit every spring, and if they decide in favor of daylight saving, just advance their working day an hour and leave the clock alone?

Is the city man so far degenerated in moral fiber that he has to fool himself out of bed a little earlier by playing a trick on the clock? On that basis the farmers might well ask for a law moving the clock ahead three hours to make them believe it is seven o’clock when really it is only four; for the latter is the hour at which most of them start work in the summer.

As far as any saving is concerned, the whole thing is pure humbug. Do you know how the city man spends his extra hour in the evening? He cranks up his car and goes out into the country for a spin. Now I understand that the gasoline resources are in a good deal worse shape than the coal; so in my opinion it should be saved first. Of course, I don’t mean to imply that I am opposed to automobilling; I simply want to point out that the alleged saving is a fraud because it leads to a spending in another direction which we can even less afford.

E. Danbel.

Osier, Mich.


To the Editor of the Scientific American:

Your apparent unfamiliarity with some of the conditions on the farm causes you to overlook several point which favor the farmer in his opposition to daylight saving. It is not merely that he can’t work effectively when the dew is on the ground. Even with normal time, during the spring work and after September 1st the farmer works for an hour or more by lantern light; and if he avails himself of daylight saving he gets nothing but still another hour of groping about in the darkness.

Of late years the automobile has put the farmer in a position where he can attend the evening amusements in the nearby towns without breaking into his day’s work. This is a powerful factor in the back-to-the-land movement. But when he cannot start work until an hour after his normal schedule calls for the day’s labors to begin, he is an hour later in finishing a fair day’s stint, regardless of the hour at which his independent hands quit. He himself is not so independent. The attractions in town, however, with few exceptions begin at the same old hour, by the clock. It is not very cheerful to arrive at the amusement center just in time to meet the crowd going back. In order to help out the recreation schedule of the eight-hour worker the fourteen-hour worker is robbed of all recreation!

Do not forget that the farmer is unable to ignore the daylight saving. In dairy localities he must meet the early morning train with his milk, and this train must run on the advanced time, or it will not get the milk to the city in time for the workers' breakfasts. It is idle to say that you don’t get today’s milk for breakfast; perhaps you don’t in the biggest cities like New York, but in thousands of smaller communities you do.

Doubtless the reluctance of the hired men to work late would lessen with a continuance of daylight saving. But in this vicinity we find a distinctly unfavorable effect on their morals by working an hour later in the evening, even though they know that they start that much later in the morning.

As to the saving in coal, is that to be weighed against the happiness and contentment of millions of rural workers? Farmers willingly submitted to daylight saving in 1918, because it aided the one great issue of winning the war. Now that peace has come, we will not longer endure the many exasperating inconveniences of the to-some-extent-daylight-saving plan.

M. C.

Jamestown, N. D.


The Minority Speaks!

To the Editor of the Scientific American:

Trust you will not stand by and see daylight savings repealed without putting up a fight. I do not know of a single person who would like to see us back on the old basis. It is the most beneficial measure for the working people ever enacted.

A. M. Culver.

Los Angeles.

Source: Scientific American, October 18, 1919, 389.

See Also:"Unlimited Possibilities for Evil": Hollywood Resists Daylight Saving