Tick Tock: It’s about time

Editor’s Note: This article is part of a monthly series on the history of Webster City, written by local historian, Nancy Kayser.

Before the establishment of Standard Time zones in 1883, the United States had more than 100 different local times. The railroads operated with 50 different time schedules. The new Standard Time guaranteed uniformity throughout the nation.

That uniformity began to disappear with the adoption of Daylight Savings Time (DST) in 1918 as a war time measure.

The time change movement gained momentum when 5,000 people attended the January 1917 Daylight Saving National Convention in New York City. They promoted pushing the clock one hour ahead from May 1 to Sept. 30. Their efforts were supported by industry and major cities to save millions of dollars in light and power expense during the summer.

The United States Congress passed World War One Daylight Saving Time laws in March of 1918, effective April through October.

Proponents claimed psychological, economic and social advantages. Others argued against the move, stating business and labor could just start an hour earlier, letting the rest of the nation adjust to their schedule.

The rural population rebelled as they still worked by the sun. The new time put them in a bind with earlier milk train schedules, hired men who worked by the clock instead of the sun and country schools forced to open and close an hour later than normal.

Midwest farmers led the way in flooding Congress with petitions and letters seeking repeal of the time change. Congress passed a repeal of Daylight Saving Time in August of 1919. The move was vetoed by President Woodrow Wilson who said the city factories needed it and “farmers could take a backseat.” Congress overrode his veto and the World War One time adjustment ended in October 1919.

After the war, the use of Daylight Saving Time was haphazard throughout the United States. The Eastern seaboard cities used “New Time” by choice even though the railroads ran on Standard Time. Their populations specifically enjoyed the extra hour of after work daylight for recreational purposes.

As the country expanded production to meet the needs of World War II, President Franklin D. Roosevelt pushed Daylight Saving Time as a means to conserve electrical and heating power.

Congress passed “War Time” DST measures to begin February of 1942. The year around time change would last until the end of September 1945.

A front page article in the January 16, 1942 Freeman Journal reported on the newly passed time adjustment. “It won’t make much difference this year”, one farmer pointed out, “because if we can’t get tires for our cars we can’t go anyplace anyway, even if our work is done on time.”

Less coal used

The Freeman Journal interviewed H. E. Reisner, Webster City’s municipal light plant superintendent, in their Feb. 7, 1942 edition. Reisner noted the daily consumption peak was about 1,300 KW at 6 p.m. and with stores closing before dark on “War Time”, the peak would lessen and save coal. He said the plant used between 30 and 35 tons of coal a day.

By early 1945, the farm belt had grown weary of “War Time” claiming the time change only worked for big cities and factory workers. Iowa newspapers noted that “rural folks don’t work eight hour days or forty-hour work weeks” they work “sun to sun, doing chores in darkness on both ends of the day” thereby consuming more power.

Iowa and several other states passed resolutions in February of 1945 asking Congress to abolish Daylight Saving Time.

Heeding the pressure, Congress passed a measure to revert to Standard Time in September 1945.

Newspaper editors all over Iowa celebrated the repeal. They unanimously called the power savings estimate “a figment of the imagination”. In their September 16, 1945 editorial on the end of DST, the Council Bluffs (Iowa) Nonpareil mused that “the cows never did find out that Congress pushed the clock ahead an hour”. The country returned to Standard Time Sept. 30, 1945.

Fast time

The next year only a few regions of the country utilized “Fast Time.”

Throughout the 1950’s and early 1960’s, various Iowa towns adopted Daylight Savings Time. Cities in eastern Iowa especially used it to coordinate with Illinois time. There were a few instances where an Iowa city switched to DST in the spring, then changed back to Standard Time in midsummer because of citizen complaints.

In 1956, Des Moines required city buildings and schools to operate on DST. State offices ran on Standard time. Businesses could run on whatever time they chose.

Start and stop dates were not uniform. In the 1963-1964 time period, Iowa officials estimated there were at least 20 to 24 different start and stop dates for Daylight Saving Time. Start dates ranged from April 29 to June 3 with ending dates of August 25 to October 28.

Iowa laws were written using Standard Time. By law, bars could remain open until 1 a.m. Standard Time. Iowa’s Attorney General Hultman ruled in August of 1963 that bars operating in DST areas could stay open until 2 a.m. DST as it was legally 1 a.m. Standard time.

Daylight Saving Time also complicated birth certificates as State law required the official birth time to be Standard Time. When Daylight Saving Time was in effect, it became confusing if the mother gave birth in the hour after midnight.

Staying in-step

Webster City’s Hart-Carter plant announced in the April 22, 1964 edition of the Freeman Journal they were adopting DST to stay in-step with their nationwide customer base. They next day the City Council met in special session to consider putting the entire town on the faster time. They did adopt DST to begin April 26, 1964 and end October 4, 1964. Other towns in Hamilton county went on DST too.

However, to accommodate the opening of schools on Aug. 31, Webster City and Hamilton County changed back to Standard Time Aug. 30, 1964.

Finally, in April 1965, the Iowa legislature passed a state wide Daylight Saving Time bill mandating that DST would be from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Cities on the eastern edge of Iowa, needing to comply with state law, created their own “Summer Hours” to match Illinois’ six month DST schedule.

In June of 1965, the United States Congress officially standardized Daylight Saving Time dates at the last Sunday in April to the last Sunday in October but did not require any area to adopt “Fast Time.”

Congress again intervened during the 1973 Arab Oil Embargo Energy Crisis to place the country on ten months of Daylight Saving Time in 1974 and eight months in 1975 to conserve energy.

Uniform time

In 1986, the Uniform Time Act of 1966 was amended to begin DST on the first Sunday in April. That date was followed until the Energy Policy Act of 2005 was amended in 2007 to set DST from the second Sunday in March to the first Sunday in November. Hawaii, Arizona and the U. S. territories do not observe Daylight Savings Time.

We’ve grown accustomed to resetting clocks ahead in the spring and back in the fall. It’s not much extra effort, except for those using an automatic alarm clock built before 2007. The built in automatic time change feature compels those owners to reset times twice in the spring and twice again in the fall.