Arch Merrill on DST

Daylight Saving Time ends on Sunday Nov. 5th. Here is a column by Arch Merrill telling about the fights in Rochester over if we should except DST or not.


Sunday, Nov. 17, 1963

Daylight Saving Wasn’t Always Accepted Here
Arch Merrill

Arch Merrill

Not so many years ago, the issue of daylight saving divided Rochester into two camps. It was as controversial as the Princeton Plan is today.

For a decade it was a hot potato for the politicos in the City Council and was three times voted down in city referendums.

Many will remember those hard-fought campaigns when signs and stickers exhorted the voters to defeat daylight savings “for mother’s sake” or to adopt it to “get that extra hour of health-giving sunshine.

During the long struggle “fast time” was supported generally by sportsmen, industrialists and health groups and opposed by theater owners, farmers and other early risers and some mothers, who claimed daylight saving upset their children’s sleeping schedules. Organized labor, against it for years, finally swung over into the daylight saving camp.

There are still some diehards who object to tinkering with “God’s time” every April and October.

Benjamin Franklin, always a century or so ahead of his time, proposed daylight saving as early as 1784 when he was United States Ambassador to France.

In a letter to a Parisian newspaper he told French shopkeepers they could “save 96,075,000 candles in one year by turning the clock ahead one hour in summer.”

The French paid no heed to sage old Ben’s radical notion.

The idea was revived in Britain in 1908 when a daylight saving bill popped up in the House of Commons. It was defeated that session and every year thereafter  until 1916 when it was adopted as a war-time measure. Most other European nations followed England’s lead.

In this country daylight saving was adopted only under the economic lash of World War I and not without a struggle. In June 1917 two months after America got into the conflict, the measure passed the Senate but did not become effective until Easter Sunday in 1918.

It was essentially a war-time measure and at the end of hostilities the issue was tossed back to the various municipalities.

In Rochester it became a bone of fierce contention. In 1919, 1921 and 1922 the City Council (Board of Aldermen) deftly shelved resolutions for the return of fast time.

In 1926 the Council approved daylight saving for that summer by a vote of 16 to 6 but provided for a vote on the issue in the fall election. Daylight saving lost by a thumping 10,000 votes.

The Council voted it back for the summer of 1930 but in a referendum that fall it again was defeated, buy by a smaller margin than in its first test at the polls. In another popular vote in 1934 the proponents of “sun time” lost again.

In 1936 and 1937 Richard Heberling, an east Avenue cigar shop operator, almost singlehandedly kept the issue alive. He distributed pamphlets around town, so that by 1938 a well-financed pro-daylight saving organization had been built up.

The late Councilman Ross E. (Tex) Erwin fathered the ordinance for another referendum. Attorney T. Carl Nixon and former Mayor Charles Stanton led the proponents of daylight saving to their first victory at the polls in the election of 1939.

It won by 3,000 votes. Organized labor had changed its mind. The victorious proposition also insured “fast time” for 1940 and 1941.

We went to war again in 1941 and daylight saving was with us to stay.

Most other large cities in the state had been on daylight saving for years, a situation that confused travelers.

Some outsiders jeeringly contended that the reason Rochester turned down daylight saving so often was because it prevented too many citizens from hearing the Amos ‘n Andy radio show, popular in those years before television.