Daylight Saving Time: Why We Fall Back

Senate Sergeant at Arms Charles Higgins turns forward the Ohio Clock for the first daylight saving time in 1918, while Sens. William Calder, N.Y., William Saulsbury, Jr., Del., and Joseph T. Robinson, Ark., look on.

Sunday morning marks the end of daylight saving time, when we set our clocks back one hour to revert to Pacific Standard Time.

While the official time to fall back is 2 a.m., a lot of people won’t have to do anything—their computers and cell phones will adjust automatically. Having to physically change clocks and watches may eventually become a thing of the past, like picking up the morning paper.

But does everyone do it? Have we always done it the same way? And why did we even start doing it? Here’s some answers:

  • Having an extra hour of evening sunlight in the summer seems to be a popular concept, except in Arizona, where daylight saving time is not observed. Who wants another hour of scorching sunlight later in the day? Better to sleep through as much sunshine as possible in the morning and bring on the lower after-dark temperatures as soon as possible.
  • Alaska observes daylight saving time, although debate rages as to whether that should continue. When the sun shines all night in the summer, what’s the point? But that would create a five-hour difference between Alaska and the East Coast, leaving Alaskans to feel even more isolated.
  • Hawaii is the only other state besides Arizona that currently opts out of the spring-forward-fall-back routine, requiring residents to think of something else to remind them the smoke detectors need new batteries.
  • We keep tinkering with how we set our clocks. In 2007 the U.S. adopted the current schedule, with daylight saving time beginning the second Sunday in March and ending the first Sunday in November, lengthening it by four weeks. Trick-or-treating in the dark became less of a problem.
  • Saving energy during World War I was the goal when the United States first tried daylight saving time, but it was unpopular for some reason and repealed once the war was over. 
  • It was brought back on an all-year basis during World War II and dropped once again when peace broke out.
  • Daylight saving time was standardized by Congress in 1966 and has changed several times since, with a winter version experimented with during the 1970s oil embargo. 
  • The rolling blackouts that hit California in 2001 brought up the idea of expanding daylight saving time, prompting the California Energy Commission to release a 37-page report.
  • The proposal was to scrap standard time altogether, with the winter months observing daylight saving time and the summer months saddled with something called double daylight saving time.
  • Thankfully the commission concluded that the plan would only save marginal amounts of energy and it was never enacted. Turns out the blackouts had more to do with Enron than not enough electricity.