Daylight Saving Time in 2012 is March 11. In honor of local residents “springing forward,” we offer a reprint of Richard Holmes’ Nutfield Rambles story about Daylight Saving Time.
Enjoy this look back on the history of this event, and don’t forget to change your clocks tonight!
Most of us accept the fact that in March we have to change our clocks from standard time to daylight saving time. The TV weatherman reminds us that it’s “spring ahead, fall back.” Actually, the time change in March now comes about a week before the first day of spring, so I guess a better memory device would be “March forward.” Daylight saving time (there is no s at the end of the word saving) seems to have been with us forever. There was a time, however, when the biannual changing of the clocks caused considerable debate here in Derry.
Daylight saving time (DST) was first proposed in a 1789 tongue-in-cheek essay by Ben Franklin. He reckoned that changing the clocks could save the people of Paris a fortune by cutting down on their used of candles. By Franklin’s calculations, there would be a savings of exactly 65,050,000 pounds of candle wax. The founding father didn’t push the idea too strongly because he admitted he never got up before noon anyway.
The concept of DST was filed away in the “crazy idea bin” until the First World War, when both England and her enemy Germany used the time-changing scheme as a way to save fuel. In 1916, the state of New Hampshire debated turning its clocks an hour ahead in spring. At a public hearing in Manchester, the opponents were so vocal that the idea was dropped. The federal government ignored our sentiments and instituted DST in March 1918. The wartime measure lasted only seven months, and in 1919 Congress voted to return the nation to standard time. Each state and town, however, was allowed to continue DST as a local option.
In 1920, Massachusetts adopted DST. What they do in the Bay State usually means very little to the residents of Derry; in fact, we often took pride in being different from our overtaxed neighbor to the south. In truth, however, the two states were bound together by the iron tracks of the Boston and Maine Railroad. The rail company adopted DST but didn’t actually move the hands of its clocks and watches. It simply changed the schedule running time of all of its trains so they ran exactly one hour earlier. The seven o’clock train now roared into Derry at six in the morning. Our two trolley lines also changed their timetables. This meant that if Derry didn’t adopt DST, the farmers would have to bring their milk and eggs to the freight depot an hour earlier than before. Commuters would get an hour less sleep.
A mass meeting was held at the Adams Memorial building on March 22, 1921, to discuss continuing with DST. Frank McGregor, president of the Derry Board of Trade, called the meeting to order. He invited Attorney Ralph Davis to talk about a new law that was working its way through the New Hampshire Legislature. It would outlaw daylight saving time in our state. Anyone who was caught setting his clocks ahead could be rapped with a five-hundred-dollar fine! Davis explained that the proposed law was meaningless, as our state couldn’t “control the acts of the Boston and Maine Railroad.” He expressed his personal opposition to DST. He said he didn’t want Derry to be like the city of Nashua, which had been vilified when it voted to set its clocks ahead.
A straw poll was taken at the meeting. The hundred or so citizens present told the Derry Board of Trade that they were of one mind in their opposition to the concept of DST. The overwhelming sentiment, however, was that Derry had no choice. It had to adopt daylight saving time in its stores, shoe factories, and schools to avoid mass confusion.
There were pockets of resistance of course. In April, the Reverend Irving Enslin called for a parish meeting of the First Baptist Church on Broadway. The other churches had all adopted DST. Each Sunday, when the Baptists were going to church, the members of the other churches were leaving their worship services and going home. The Baptist deacons likely feared that they would see a decrease in the size of their congregation as parishioners opted for an earlier worship time so they could have more leisure time each Sunday in Summer.
Many at this Baptist church meeting railed against DST. They said it “disregarded the home plans, the hours of meals, the hours of sleep for the children, and the general work day.” Despite the congregation’s dislike of the concept of daylight saving time, the members voted to hold all services, prayer meetings, and Sunday schools an hour earlier than usual. They also showed their disdain for DST by not moving the time on the tower clock. The official time for the Baptists would remain eastern standard time!
The opposition to changing the time continued for the next several decades. To add to the confusion, in March 1924 both Londonderry and Chester chose to keep their clocks set on standard time. Thus a trolley trip form Manchester to Chester would require the conductor to change his official watch three times. In November 1924, voters in Massachusetts voted to abolish daylight saving time.
By April of 1929, things hadn’t gotten any better. Massachusetts had again gone back to daylight saving time but Derry voted to remain on standard time. All of our churches were scheduling their services to coincide with DST but the clock towers were still set on standard time. The B & M Railroad was officially on standard time but the schedule was adjusted so trains ran an hour later than usual. Some individuals in Derry set their kitchen clocks to standard time while others opted for DST. By now even I’m getting confused just trying to write this article.
Many citizens viewed it as a conflict between “man’s time” and “God’s time.” In 1936, three hundred Chester citizens signed a petition to get their town to adopt DST. That spring, most of the town’s people had set their clocks an hour ahead, but the Chester town government didn’t follow suit. Town Meetings and school sessions were posted to begin at a certain time that was an hour after the time on most people’s watches and clocks. One local newspaper correspondent called it “Daylight Nuisance Time.”
During the Second World War, the federal government again mandated daylight saving time. From 1945 to 1966 there was no national law on the subject. After 1966, it became a local option. Today DST is not observed in Arizona, Hawaii, or portions of Indiana. I remember years ago while driving through the border states hearing about the confusion caused by “fast time” and “slow time.” Indiana is divided by the eastern and central time zones. For part of the year, the clocks in eastern Indiana are two hours faster than those in the western counties.
Here in Derry the rift over daylight saving time is a thing of the past. The tower clock at the Baptist church is now in agreement with the time on my wristwatch. And no one seems to have complained that in the year 2007 the government has added a month to the length of DST. Some energy experts figure this action will save America ten thousand barrels of oil a day. Other experts say it won’t. Here in Derry, most of us are willing to exchange “an hour of night for an hour of light.” The day we turn our clocks ahead is also the day we replace the batteries in our smoke detectors.
This excerpt is from “Nutfield Rambles,” Richard Holmes’ fifth published piece on local history. Richard was born, raised and attended school throughout New Hampshire. He received his Bachelor’s Degree in Education from Keene State College and his Master’s Degree in History from Rivier College. In 2003 he founded the Derry Museum of History. In 2007 Richard Holmes received an Award of Merit from the American Association for State and Local History. This is the most prestigious recognition one can receive for the preservation and interpretation of state and local history. Richard is also a regular columnist for the Derry News and a frequent contributor to the Nutfield News, the Lawrence Eagle Tribune and the Manchester Union Leader.
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