If you, dear reader, are annoyed that your sleep got messed up because you had to change clocks on Sunday, you can follow the greatest of New Hampshire traditions and blame Massachusetts.
Daylight Saving Time was instituted in this country during World War I to save energy by shifting hours of daylight more in tune with industrial schedules, reducing the need for artificial lighting in factories. Germany had done it first and we followed suit.
Congress turned off national DST after the war because farmers didn’t like it but they left it as an option for cities and states. In 1920, Massachusetts was deciding whether to reinstate DST. New Hampshire Gov. John Bartlett appealed to Calvin Coolidge, then the Bay State governor, not to do so because the Granite State would have to follow suit for business reasons. That would impose “a great injustice on New Hampshire,” Bartlett said since we were still very rural.
Like everybody in Massachusetts always does, Coolidge ignored us. Massachusetts adopted DST that year.
New Hampshire stuck with Standard Time for a while but the textile hubs of Nashua and Manchester adopted unofficial DST to stay in sync with their Massachusetts clients and suppliers. Eventually, we gave in and the twice-annual switcheroo has been with us since.
I learned these details from “Seize the Daylight,” a history of Daylight Saving Time written by David Prerau, which I thumbed through after hearing people’s semi-annual complaints about changing clocks. Among the items Prerau brings up is that New Hampshire argued against daylight saving because it makes the morning darker at a time when private cars were expensive, meaning that many farm children had to take the milk train to town for school.
A reminder: On Sunday we got rid of Daylight Saving Time and returned to Standard Time, which is why it’s lighter in the morning than it was last week. The history of DST is a little confusing because the month and day when it is turned on and off have changed over the years.
Personally, I like the spring-forward-fall-back dance, although I wish somebody would tell me how to change the clock in my car. I like it because it reminds me that measured time is an artificial construct, an awkward attempt to fit industrial life into the natural world, rather than something handed down from on high. Anything that draws attention to our relationship with the universe is a good thing.
I’m in the minority, though. Almost everybody hates changing clocks, although they disagree about what to do next.
Among the haters is Timothy Horrigan, a state representative from Durham, the latest New Hampshire legislator trying to squelch the practice. He is sponsoring a bill titled “relative to abolishing daylight saving time,” which is at least the third such attempt over the years that I am aware of.
Those attempts usually say we’ll do it if Massachusetts does it, because the southern half of the state doesn’t want to be out of whack with Boston. Some Massachusetts legislators say they’ll do it if New York does it, again fearing out-of-whackness, but New York doesn’t seem to want to do it so I think we’re stuck.
There’s no question that changing clocks has drawbacks, as anybody who has to worry about feeding times for pets or small children knows. Altering people’s sleep habits adds to stress, which has been shown to increase bad stuff like heart attacks and car accidents. It’s not a joke that commuters should be more careful on the Monday morning after the first Sunday in November when clocks change, because drivers will be sleepier than usual.
The main reason most of the country hasn’t ditched the clock switcheroo is that we can’t decide whether we want full-time Daylight Saving Time or full-time Standard Time – that is, whether we’re more interested in having light during winter mornings (standard) or light during winter afternoons (daylight saving). Generally, rural folks prefer light mornings and city folk prefer light afternoons.
Which is better? Scientific American had an article about scores of studies that have looked at the question, measuring everything from saving energy to personal health to crime rates. Standard Time did a bit better but it wasn’t a knockout blow by any means.
As for whether things will ever change, the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate approved year-round Daylight Saving in 2022 but it soon came out that many senators didn’t know what the bill actually did and were backing off the idea, plus a number of medical folks said they should have pushed Standard Time year-round instead. The House never took up the matter and it died.
I don’t think things will ever change, not nationally and not here. Efforts to move New Hampshire to the Atlantic Time Zone are about as likely to go through as are efforts to have us secede from America.
For me, at least, that’s not bad. I’ll be able to cut-and-paste this column every November and March from now until retirement!