What? Why Would They Do That? (Daylight Savings Time)

Two weeks ago was the end of daylight savings time here in the United States, and I was talking to my wife about it.  Specifically, I was saying that I’d considered reminding my team at work to set their clocks back on Sunday, but I’d decided against it.  They’re all young, so I was the only person on the team that owned a clock that didn’t automatically reset (my microwave, if you’re curious).

“Why do you need to change the clock?” my son asked.

“Daylight savings time is coming to an end,” I told him.  “So, at two in the morning on Sunday, we set the clock back to 1 AM.”

He looked at me like I’d grown a second head.  “What?” he says, laughing.  “Why would they do that?”

Why do we do this thing?

At its core, daylight savings time exists because of an idea of “saving daylight” – pushing time around to give more light in the evening.  In theory, at least, this reduces energy consumption because people would be less likely to be at home in the longer, well-lit summer evenings.  Recent studies have been ambiguous about whether or not this works, with results ranging from a 0.5% decrease in energy use to a 1% increase in energy use.

Despite the myths, we daylight savings time was never intended to benefit farmers.  The changing time disrupts farm schedules and makes caring for animals (especially cattle) more difficult.

A history of Daylight Savings Time

The first act that created daylight savings time was the Standard Time Act of 1918, which was “[a]n Act To save daylight and to provide standard time, for the United States”.  Section 3 of the Act stipulated the following”

That at two o’clock antemeridian of the last Sunday. in March of each year the standard time of each. zone shall be advanced one hour, and at two o’clock antemeridian of the last Sunday in October in each year the standard time of each zone shall, by the retarding of one hour, be returned to the mean astronomical time of the degree of longitude governing said zone, so that between the last Sunday in March at two o’clock antemeridian and the last Sunday in October at two o’clock antemeridian in each year, the standard time in each zone shall be one how’ in advance of the mean astronomical time of the degree of longitude governing each zone, respectively.

This provision of the Act was repealed on March 19, 1919, although the bulk of the Act – which created the four time zones of the continental United States, were left in force.

A form of Daylight Savings Time returned during the Second World War, when the clocks were permanently set forward one hour for the duration of the war as a fuel rationing move.  Here’s what that Act had to say:

AN ACT To promote the national security and defense by establishing daylight saving time.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That beginning at 2 o’clock antemeridian of the twentieth day after the date of enactment of this Act, the standard time of each zone established pursuant to the Act entitled “An Act to save daylight and to provide standard time for the United States”, approved March 19, 1918, as amended, shall be advanced one hour.

Sxc. 2. This Act shall cease to be in effect six months after the termination of the present war or at such earlier date as the Congress shall by concurrent resolution designate, and at 2 o’clock antemeridian of the last Sunday in the calendar month following the calendar month during which this Act ceases to be in effect the standard time of each zone shall be returned to the mean astronomical time of the degree of longitude governing the standard time for such zone as provided in such Act of March 19, 1918, as amended.

This was something of an exceptional version of Daylight Savings Time, lasting from February 9, 1942 to September 30, 1945.

Daylight Savings Time didn’t return in any official capacity until US Code Title 15, Chapter 6, Subchapter IX – Standard Time was passed in 1966, stating that “It is the policy of the United States to promote the adoption and observance of uniform time within the standard time zones prescribed by sections 261 to 264 of this title, as modified by section 265 of this title. To this end the Secretary of Transportation is authorized and directed to foster and promote widespread and uniform adoption and observance of the same standard of time within and throughout each such standard time zone.”  The original legislation stated that Daylight Savings Time would last from “the period commencing at 2 o’clock antemeridian on the last Sunday of April of each year and ending at 2 o’clock antemeridian on the last Sunday of October of each year”.  This was later amended by the Energy Savings Act of 2005 by

  1. by striking “first Sunday of April” and inserting “second Sunday of March”; and
  2. by striking “last Sunday of October” and inserting “first Sunday of November”.

Was the candy industry behind the most recent change?

That’s a thing that gets trotted out as a fact, yes.  Heck, I’ve been known to do it myself.  But, it seems, the truth is a little murkier.  The candy industry did participate in lobbying for the change, but the actual change was driven by a belief that it would change industry – not that it would increase candy sales (see the Energy Savings Act, above).  Various retail and sports industry lobby groups also supported the bill, so laying it all at the feet of Big Candy is a little… sour.

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What’s Robin Hood’s Last Name?

Some questions just come out of left field.

My son’s been mildly obsessed with Robin Hood, ever since we first watched the Disney animated Robin Hood movie. Not to the same degree he’s obsessed with Star Wars, mind, but it’s still his go-to cartoon movie. I could imagine any number of questions coming out of that film – Why the characters aren’t wearing pants, perhaps. Or why are they animals. I even got one of the questions I expected: “Why is Prince John putting them in jail?” But I never expected to get asked:

“Dad? What’s Robin Hood’s last name?”

Seriously. If I’d even considered that as a question, I’d have expected him to think “Hood” was the character’s last name. Heck, I even tried that as an answer.

“His last name is Hood.”

“No it’s not, daddy. That’s not a last name.”

Go figure. So, it’s off to the internet. And the short answer to the question is that he probably doesn’t have one, because there probably isn’t a historical Robin Hood. As Stephen Knight and Thomas Ohlgren write in the introduction to Robin Hood and Other Outlaw Tales:

It remains an item of faith, or perhaps obsession, among many modern commentators that Robin Hood too was a real person, and they believe that enough careful attention to the records will produce a real Robin Hood who might, like the equally obscure King Arthur, be the real figure behind the myths — or legends, as such historians would want to call them. It is true (and usually ignored by the modern historians) that the earliest references to the hero all assume he was a real person amplified in story, an English Wallace, it might seem, especially because the earliest chroniclers who mention Robin are all Scottish….

That idea of antiquity and the prolific appearance of the name do not, however, suggest that there was one “original” Robin Hood, but that by then the name refers generally to someone who was in some way outside or against the law as it was being imposed.

Interestingly enough, however, there are sources that provide him with a name. For example, there’s Joseph Ritson’s Robin Hood: A collection of all the ancient poems, songs and ballads, now extant, relative to that celebrated English outlaw:

ROBIN HOOD was born at Locksley, in the county of Nottingham, in the reigh of King Henry the Second, and about the year of Christ 1160. His extraction was noble, and his true name ROBERT FITZOOTH, which vulgar pronunciation easily corrupted into ROBIN HOOD. He is frequently styled, and commonly reputed to have been, EARL OF HUNTINGDON; a title to which, in the latter part of his life, at least, he actually appears to have had some sort of pretension.

BBC History weighs in as well, with the following quote from Robin Hood and his Historical Context:

On 25th July 1225, the royal justices held an assize at York. When the penalties were recorded in the Michaelmas roll of the Exchequer, they included 32s. 6d. for the chattels of one Robert Hod, fugitive. The account was carried forward into the following year, when he had acquired the nickname of ‘Hobbehod’, and indicates that he had been a tenant of the archbishopric of York.

The article notes, however, that the evidence for this is flimsy. John Major, the historian who presented the argument, used dating described by the author as “purely arbitrary”. However, it does fall nicely within the reign of King John, so that’s one bit of evidence in favor of Robert Hod being Robin Hood’s real name. (And incidentally, don’t you love how historians snipe at each other?)

Robin Hood may or may not have been real, and his name may or may not have been Robin Hood. But real people were certainly happy to adopt his name as their own. As the BBC article goes on to discuss:

The King’s Remembrancer’s Memoranda Roll of Easter 1262 notes the pardoning of the prior of Sandleford for seizing without warrant the chattels of one William Robehod, fugitive. This case can be cross-referenced with the roll of the Justices in Eyre in Berkshire in 1261, in which a criminal gang is outlawed, including William son of Robert le Fevere, whose chattels were seized without warrant by the prior of Sandleford.

This William son of Robert and William Robehod were certainly one and the same, and some clerk during transcription had changed the name. It follows that the man who changed the name knew of the legend and equated the name of Robin Hood with outlawry.

The article further notes that “there are numerous cases in the C13th & C14th of outlaws deliberately taking on the pseudonyms of Robin Hood and Little John, and it seems likely that the original Friar Tuck who got accreted to the legend was one Robert Stafford who was active in Sussex between 1417 and 1429.”

So Robin Hood’s real name may have been Hod. Or Fitzooth. Or nothing at all.  But, whatever it was, he’s still famous.