Daylight robbery

New Zealand entomologist George Hudson proposed modern daylight saving time so that he could catch more bugs.

I’m just going to start with this: I hate daylight saving time. As the father of two small children, a simple shift in clocks leads to weeks of interrupted bedtimes and general toddler drama. Also I’m pretty sure we’re not saving any time, because I never see interest payments when my borrowed hour is returned. I could use a few extra minutes.

Anyway, one of the very first people to seriously propose daylight savings was a British-born New Zealand scientist named George Hudson. Hudson was a member of the Wellington Philosophical Society – a group which would later become part of New Zealand’s Royal Society Te Apārangi. In 1895 he put forth a modest proposal:

The author proposed to alter the time of the clock at the equinoxes so as to bring the working-hours of the day within the period of daylight, and, by utilising the early morning, so reduce the excessive use of artificial light which present prevails.

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Apparently, Hudson made this proposal because he was an avid collector of insects, and he wanted more time after working hours to catch them. (His insect collection today forms part of the Museum of New Zealand national collection.) His proposal, however, was not well received. Another entomologist at the same meeting had this to say:

Mr. Maskell said that the mere calling the hours different would not make any difference in the time. It was out of the question to think of altering a system that had been in use for thousands of years, and found by experience to be the best. The paper was not practical.

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I agree with Mr. Maskell, although his reasoning was quite sloppy. Clock time (as opposed to solar time) has not been in use for thousands of years. And the argumentum ad antiquitatem, the appeal to antiquity, is just not that convincing.

Hudson, rather hurt, had this to say:

He was sorry to see the paper treated rather with ridicule. He intended it to be practical. It was approved of by those much in the open air. There would be no difficulty in altering the clocks.

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Back in Britain ten years later, a chap named William Willett proposed a similar scheme (supposedly so that he could get more golf in after work), but it wasn’t until World War I that countries began to actually adopt daylight savings time.

Hudson, vindicated by history, later received an award from the Royal Society for his proposal. He received it the same year that New Zealand first adopted that heinous legislation, and shared the award with Nobel Prize-winner Ernest Rutherford.

[Thanks to Gareth E.]

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