Why We Still Have Daylight Savings Time

October 28th 2015

Alex Mierjeski

In just a few short (long?) days, Americans will set their clocks back one hour when Daylight Saving Time (DST) concludes at 2 AM on the first Sunday in November. The idea behind the period, which begins in March, is to manipulate daylight hours in order to reduce electricity usage. But it is also a time when retailers see a narrow window for making a few extra bucks.

DST has something of a tumultuous history, but it has undergone some fairly significant shifts in the last decade. In 2005, an energy bill signed into law by then President George W. Bush extended the duration of DST by about a month, stretching it to the second Sunday in March to the first Sunday in November (at 2 AM). Since 1986, it had lasted from the first Sunday in April to the last Sunday in October (at 5 PM).

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So why the change? In part, business and politics. 

"Since 1915, the most important and the single biggest supporter of DST has been the Chamber of Commerce, on behalf of small retail businesses," explains Michael Downing, an English lecturer at Tufts University and author of the book "Spring Forward: The Annual Madness of Daylight Saving Time." "What the Chamber understood as early as 1915—before America had even tried its first experiment with DST—was that if you gave industrial workers who were leaving factories more light at the end of the day, they'd be more apt to stop and shop on the way home. This turned out to be both true, and increasingly true throughout the century." 

Downing said that commerce brought on by just one extra hour of daylight was enough to spur lawmakers into bending to industry requests.

"That's why in recent history, what we've seen Congress do, with the pressure of lobbies, is every 20 years, extend the period of DST so that we went from six months in 1966, to seven months in 1986, and in 2005 we went to eight months," Downing told ATTN:. 

Daylight Saving, he added, "turns out to be a boon for particular segments of the retail industry."

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What industries were responsible?

Along with the Chamber of Commerce, lobbyists representing the golf industry, the BBQ industry, as well as smaller convenience stores and candy manufacturers, have all had stakes in manipulating the clock to boost business. Recreational activities are no-brainers: longer days give people more time to play golf and barbeque, generating millions for both industries—$200 million and $100 million respectively for another month of DST, industry lobbyists reportedly told Congress

Downing says that Halloween is also a factor in DST lobbying. Following swirling fears around tall tales of poisoned candy, as well as the awareness of Amber Alert and child abduction, Downing argues, candy lobbyists pushed for longer DST in order to assuage parents' fears and boost drooping sales. Lobbyists allegedly went so far as to leave candy on Senators' seats as a bribe. 

For the record, the candy industry disputes the extent of their lobbying efforts, as well as the candy bribe claims. 

But while the candy industry—to whatever degree they were invested in longer DST—failed to push more daylight into November in the 1980s, that happened in 2005. And according to Downing, their interests might have been more tied in with a lobby that represents both candy sales and another potent fuel. 

"Convenience stores sell a lot of America's candy," Downing explains. "But more importantly, convenience stores in the U.S. are attached to gasoline sales—the pumps that we see on our highways and streets all across America." As it turns out, Americans may have convenience stores to thank for longer DST.