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The History Of Time (And Why We Keep Trying To Change It)


Daylight Savings Time is ending soon, and everyone in the United States will be turning their clock back one hour on November 4. This annual ritual irritates many Americans, but at least it’s only a one-hour difference. Try waking up and suddenly only having six days on the calendar, or having to change your clocks eight times per year. Daylight Savings isn’t the only time in history people have tried to mess with the clock and calendar. In fact, throughout history humans have toyed with time in strange ways.

Here’s some information on the history of time and people doing their best to mess with it.

Historic Beginnings

Humans have been changing clocks and calendars for centuries. People as far back as ancient Rome have been adjusting their timekeeping to account for the change in the solar cycles over the course of seasons. For instance, Romans water-clocks would use different scales for different months of the year.

Viva La Resistance!

Humans have also messed with time for more revolutionary reasons. More recently, in 1799 after the French Revolution, French revolutionaries tried to institute a ten-hour day, a major shift from the standard 24-hour clock. They also attempted to institute a calendar with three, ten-day weeks per month. The move was broadly unpopular, not to mention confusing, and the standard calendar fell back into use fairly quickly.

However, the French weren’t the only revolutionaries to try and remake the clock and calendar as we know it. The Soviet Union also tried (and, again, failed) to enforce five- and six-day weeks between 1929 and 1931.

20th-Century Changes

The 20th century introduced a lot of changes to timekeeping that would eventually evolve into the modern Daylight Savings Time in the United States. In fact, you can thank (or hate) founding father Benjamin Franklin for Daylight Savings. Benjamin Franklin first proposed the idea while serving as an American delegate in Paris in 1784. He introduced the idea in his essay, “An Economical Project.”

The first time the United States introduced Daylight Savings Time was during World War I, but it was repealed shortly after when farmers complained about the impacts the change had on their productivity. Daylight Savings Time was then reintroduced during World War II, for nearly the same reasons it was instated initially during the previous war: daytime productivity and conserving energy. The United States officially mandated all states begin following Daylight Savings Time in 1966. Since then, the exact dates of the time shift have been moved slightly, but the overall result has been the same, with a one hour shift forward in spring, and then back again in fall.

Humans have been changing time for centuries, and on November 4, 2018, the time will come to shift once again. Remember to set your clocks back one additional hour that Sunday to continue the centuries-long pattern of adjusting humanity’s timekeeping practices.

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