A Straight Dope Classic from Cecil's Storehouse of Human Knowledge

What's the purpose of daylight saving time?

September 6, 1991

Dear Cecil:

One thing I have never understood is daylight saving time. Why can't we just put the clock forward a half hour next spring and then never touch it again?

Cecil replies:

The newspapers have been trying to explain this for years, and still nobody gets it. Time to bring out the big battalions.

People have the idea that the purpose of daylight saving time is to give them more time to frolic on summer evenings. Hah. The real purpose is to conserve energy. You want to line up the hours of daylight with the hours most people are up and about. That way they'll use the lights less and we'll waste less oil, coal, etc.

On December 21 sunrise is around 7:20 AM and sunset around 4:40 PM — business hours. Fine. Problem is, as the day lengthens you get more daylight in both AM and PM but you need it mostly PM. Rather than try and noodge the clock ahead every day, you bide your time till April. Then bam, you switch to DST, thereby shifting an hour of wasted daylight from morning till evening. When the days start to get shorter again, you shift the hour back. It's a hassle but more effective than this half-hour-split-the-difference nonsense.

Now for questions from the class.

Why do we need to change the clock at all? Why don't we just get up earlier?

Yeah, right. Besides, this is the 20th century. You do what the clock tells you to do. When the masterminds behind it all want people to dance to a different tune, they don't retrain the populace, they change the clocks.

Why are farmers against daylight saving time?

Because they're idiots. They claim DST makes them get up when it's pitch dark. Like hell. Farmers can get up when they want (subject to the OK of the cows, of course). Except on market days they don't have to be in sync with the rest of us. They just don't feel like resetting the alarm. TDB.

Idiocy of farmers explained

Dear Cecil:

As a farmer, I resent being called an idiot. The reason we are against daylight saving time is that our crops can't stand the extra hour of sun in the dry part of the year. They burn up and wilt.

Cecil replies:

This is a joke, right?

Dear Cecil:

You didn't know how close to the truth you were when you attributed the farmer's schedule to the cows in your column about daylight saving time. It's true clock time doesn't mean much to a farmer or his cows. The problem arises when the milk cans, filled from the bulging udders of cows ready to give milk at the same point in "God's time" each day, end up sitting on the station platform while the trains (running on Man's time, which has been set back an hour) obstinately refuse to show up to carry the precious fluid to you waiting city dwellers with your dry Cheerios. Get with the program, Uncle Cecil.

Cecil replies:

You think the farmers have ever heard of, say, a refrigerator?

Dear Cecil:

I left the farm 35 years ago, but I still remember the farmers' quarrel with DST, at least in Wisconsin. It had nothing to do with cows and clocks, but rather with farmers and clocks. As soon as farmers began working according to the clock instead of according to the sun, along came DST and robbed farmers of two hours each day. This is how. Field crops become damp with dew every evening, and are dried by the sun every morning. Crops ready by 8 o'clock "sun time" now were not ready until 9 o'clock DST. Thus one hour was lost in the morning. Then at the end of the day, farmers working by DST knocked off at 7 o'clock, which was only 6 o'clock "sun time." Thus they lost another hour in the evening. The unanswerable question, of course, is why farmers ever work according to clocks.

Cecil replies:

I'll say. I was kidding when I said farmers were idiots, but now I'm starting to wonder.

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