Daylight saving time—the practice of moving the clock forward one hour—has many critics. Losing an hour of sleep only to wake up to darkness? No thanks. But is Benjamin Franklin to blame for this “invention”?
Daylight saving time is one thing that Franklin did not invent. He merely suggested Parisians change their sleep schedules to save money on candles and lamp oil.
The common misconception comes from a satirical essay he wrote in the spring of 1784 that was published in the Journal de Paris. In the essay, titled “An Economical Project,” he writes of the thrifty benefits of daylight versus artificial light. He describes how—when woken by a loud noise at 6 a.m.—he noticed that the sun had already risen.
“Your readers, who with me have never seen any sign of sunshine before noon, and seldom regard the astronomical part of the almanac, will be as much astonished as I was, when they hear of his rising so early; and especially when I assure them, that he gives light as soon as he rises. I am convinced of this. I am certain of my fact. One cannot be more certain of any fact. I saw it with my own eyes.”
His conclusions? Rising with the sun would save the citizens of Paris, where he was living at the time, a great deal of money: “An immense sum! That the city of Paris might save every year by the economy of using sunshine instead of candles.”
Tongue firmly in cheek, Franklin went on to propose regulations to ensure Parisians became early risers:
First. Let a tax be laid of a louis [gold coin] per window, on every window that is provided with shutters to keep out the light of the sun.
Second … Let guards be placed in the shops of the wax and tallow chandlers, and no family be permitted to be supplied with more than one pound of candles per week.
Third. Let guards also be posted to stop all the coaches, etc. that would pass the streets after sunset, except those of physicians, surgeons, and midwives.
Fourth. Every morning, as soon as the sun rises, let all the bells in every church be set ringing; and if that is not sufficient? Let cannon be fired in every street, to wake the sluggards effectually, and make them open their eyes to see their true interest.
“For the great benefit of this discovery, thus freely communicated and bestowed by me on the public, I demand neither place, pension, exclusive privilege, nor any other reward whatever,” he continued. “I expect only to have the honour of it.”
So, who actually first proposed daylight saving time? We can place the blame on a New Zealand entomologist, George Hudson, who wanted more daylight in the evenings and presented the idea in 1895.