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The Simple Reason Why Daylight Saving Time Starts at 2 A.M.

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Learn about the history of Daylight Saving Time, including why it was first introduced and why it begins at 2 a.m. We explore the economic and practical reasons behind the custom, and how it affects our daily lives.

Why Does Daylight Saving Time Start at 2 A.M.?

As spring arrives, the annual shift to Daylight Saving Time prompts people worldwide to turn their clocks forward one hour. Although many people assume that the custom was established to benefit farmers or save energy, it is actually an economic measure. This article explores the history and reasons behind Daylight Saving Time, including why it begins at 2 a.m.

Origins of Daylight Saving Time

Daylight Saving Time only began within the last century, and contrary to popular belief, it was not because of farmers. The custom was first introduced in 1918 during World War I to save energy, following Britain and Germany. A British architect named William Willett had popularized and promoted the idea, though Benjamin Franklin had come up with a similar notion in the 18th century.

Despite reintroductions during World War II, it was not established as a law until 1966, when Congress passed the Uniform Time Act. This act also established standard time zones across the U.S.

The Role of the Chamber of Commerce

The most prominent lobbyist group for Daylight Saving Time was actually the Chamber of Commerce. This group lobbied, on behalf of department stores who were the “economic force” in metropolitan areas. They understood that if you gave workers more daylight when they were leaving work at the end of the day, they would stop and shop on the way home. It has turned out to be an incredible retail boom. Beyond the retail boom, Daylight Saving Time also gave New York and London an extra working hour when they could trade stocks.

The Confusion of Daylight Saving Time

Naturally, before the country adopted the policy legislatively, there was a great deal of confusion. People had a hard time keeping track of what time it would be where. “It just made everyone nuts,” Michael Downing, author of Spring Forward: The Annual Madness of Daylight Saving Time, says. “I mean, the confusion was really profound.”

Daylight Saving Time and Energy Conservation

The DOT’s website says Daylight Saving Time saves energy because “the need to use electricity for household lighting and appliances is reduced.” However, 21st century research has shown that this may not be the case. Despite the potential lack of energy conservation, the U.S. still follows the same Uniform Time Act passed in 1965.

The Timing of Daylight Saving Time

Daylight Saving Time starts at 2 a.m. instead of midnight because of the railroads. When the country first experimented with Daylight Saving Time in 1918, there were no trains that left New York City at 2 a.m. on a Sunday. Changing the clocks at 2 a.m. would not be disruptive because there were fewer freight trains in the early 20th century than there are today. “And that was the sole reason we do it at that crazy time,” Downing explains.

The railroad industry had already played an important role in timekeeping in the U.S as North American railroads collectively adopted a Standard Railway Time in 1883, operating and dealing with time independently of Congress.


In conclusion, Daylight Saving Time is not just a custom that we follow, but it has an interesting history behind it. It was initially introduced to save energy and establish standard time zones. The Chamber of Commerce was the most prominent lobbyist group for Daylight Saving Time, and the retail boom that it brought with it was an added benefit. Despite the confusion and potential lack of energy conservation, the custom is still followed in the U.S. The timing of Daylight Saving Time at 2 a.m. is because of the railroads, and it is a reminder of the importance of transportation in shaping our daily lives.

As we enjoy the extra hour of daylight at the end of the day during the spring, it is essential to appreciate the history and practical reasons behind Daylight Saving Time. Whether we love it or hate it, it is a custom that we will continue to follow.

William H. McDaniel, MD

Dr. Robert H. Shmerling is the former clinical chief of the division of rheumatology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC), and is a current member of the corresponding faculty in medicine at Harvard Medical School.

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