Spring Forward, Fall Back? Blame It On Benjamin Franklin

Portrait of Benjamin Franklin by French artist Joseph-Siffred Duplessis

Daylight Saving Time begins tomorrow at 2 a.m. The annual ritual allows us to enjoy evening sunshine or causes us to miss appointments because of unchanged clocks, depending on your point of view. Like so many innovations, the idea was originally hatched by Benjamin Franklin, super-genius of colonial and revolutionary America and one of the members of the Committee of Five that drafted the Declaration of Independence.

While in Paris in 1784 as the U.S. ambassador to France, Franklin first developed the notion of daylight saving time. He wrote that he was awakened early and was surprised that the sun was up well before his usual noontime rising. He humorously described how he checked the time of sunrise during the next two days and determined that the sun actually did rise earlier than he thought. Like so many of his ideas, it was born out of Franklin’s whimsy. How many candles could be saved if people awakened earlier?  In order to encourage this cost-cutting plan, he suggested firing cannons in each town square at dawn “to wake the sluggards and open their eyes to their true interest.” Poor Richard was obviously interested in encouraging “early to bed and early to rise” by forcing the French to awaken with a bang.

Author David Prerau has written extensively about Daylight Saving Time in his interesting book Seize the Daylight. It might make great bedtime reading this evening. But, don’t forget to set your clocks correctly. I doubt if Franklin will be outside your house early Sunday morning, ready to fire cannon as a reminder.



Filed under Commentary

5 responses to “Spring Forward, Fall Back? Blame It On Benjamin Franklin

  1. I enjoyed your post. I’m going to share it with the family today.

  2. Ellen

    In my case, it would take a cannon (or two) “to wake the sluggard” on some days. 🙂 Interesting, funny post! Thanks again.

    • paulrhuard

      Well, I woke up like a shot this morning. I suddenly remembered we forgot to change the time on the house clocks. As I adjusted the time, I considered the irony. Thanks for reading my post.

  3. *mutter* Franklin wasn’t as brilliant as he thought he was. I’m joking of course. Enjoy your blog and have subscribed via RSS. Look forward to more.

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