How Newfoundland became the first country in America to adopt Daylight Saving Time
With a time zone half an hour ahead of the rest of the continent, Newfoundlands and some Labradorians will be the first North Americans to put their clocks forward tonight.
What you may not know is that Newfoundland was also the first country in America to officially adopt Daylight Saving Time, or Daylight Saving Time, more than a century ago.
The idea of setting clocks to coincide with sunlit hours was first proposed by New Zealand entomologist George Vernon Hudson in 1895. At the time, Hudson’s suggestion of bringing summer forward by two hours was roundly derided, but the concept was revived in 1907 by English builder William Willett.
Willett was horseback riding one bright summer morning when he noticed that most of his neighbors were still asleep and the sun was almost down when they got home from work. In a pamphlet entitled “The Waste of Daylight,” he explained how everyone could spend more time awake by simply bringing standard time forward.
We often attribute the invention of daylight saving time to a desire to conserve electricity (which became a consideration during World War I) or an obscure need on the part of farmers (who were already accustomed to rising with the sun, regardless of the hour on the clock , didn’t care much anyway).
In fact, however, Willett was most concerned for public health and welfare, writing: “As the daylight surrounds us, happiness reigns, fears lessen, and courage for life’s struggle is bred. Against our constantly besieging enemy, disease, light and fresh air serve as sentinels to our defense and, when conflict is near, provide us with the most effective weapons with which to defeat the invader.
Willett’s pamphlet fell into the hands of a man named John Anderson, a Newfoundland haberdashery merchant and well-known math enthusiast, who was in London on a business trip. Anderson arranged a meeting with Willett and quickly converted to daylight time.
Willett originally proposed that the time shift should be incremental, by 20 minutes on each of the four consecutive Sundays in April, for a total time shift of 80 minutes. Anderson convinced him that a one-time adjustment by an hour would be easier to implement, and daylight time as we know it was born.
Anderson was in a unique position to promote daylight hours. In addition to being a businessman, he was also a member of the Newfoundland Legislative Council, a parliamentary body similar to the Canadian Senate.
At the time, Newfoundland – like Canada – was a dominion of the British Empire and was functioning as an independent state. Anderson introduced daylight calculations in 1909 and 1910, but it wasn’t until 1917 that the idea gained traction.
Several Canadian cities had been experimenting with DST by then, but implementation at the municipal level created chaos in train schedules and inter-city commerce.
In 1916, at the height of World War I, a number of European nations, including Britain, finally introduced daylight saving time to aid the war effort, giving Anderson credibility for submitting another daylight saving time bill to the Newfoundland House of Assembly.
However, not all members were on board.
Walter Jennings, a fisherman by trade and Twillingate representative, joked, “I don’t see how you can make a board longer by sawing a piece off one end and laying it on the other,” while William Coaker, leader of the Opposition, believed that DST was a measure that would benefit only the well-heeled St. John’s townsfolk.
“Obviously, men who play the golf courses might want more daylight,” observed Coaker, “but I’m sure the guys in the field don’t want that.”
From Anderson’s point of view, however, it was Newfoundland’s lower classes – the factory, shop and office workers – who benefited the most from daylight hours.
“This could safely be called the bill for workers and their families,” he said, “on which the effect of one hour more sunlight per day for 110 days must result in improved health and consequent benefits for children.”
The Daylight Saving Act was passed on June 17, 1917 and became law. This made Newfoundland the first country in America to observe daylight saving time.
In the fall, an editorial in the Evening Telegram newspaper proclaimed daylight hours, known locally as “Anderson time,” as an “unmixed blessing.” As for Anderson himself, he had already set his sights higher, arguing in a letter to the editors of The New York Times that the United States and Canada should “join the rest of the world” to introduce daylight saving time.
Today there is a movement to end our biannual time changes, either by eliminating daylight savings time or by keeping it year-round.
Today, due to technological advances, most of our energy no longer powers light bulbs, but electronic devices that are not affected by daylight. There are also health concerns, as spring’s advancing clocks have been linked to an increased incidence of heart attacks, car accidents, work-related injuries and miscarriages.
Anderson would certainly encourage us not to be bound by tradition, but to take advantage of time.
As he said in 1917: “Time is almost like a general store … You have solar time from the sun, sidereal time from the stars, local time from the meridian, apparent time from the sun, Greenwich mean time, or standard time from each Land… There is no right time – we are faking it.”
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