March 8, 2013 12:55 pm
The creation of DST is usually credited to George Vernon Hudson, a New Zealand artist and amateur bug collector who first proposed the idea in an 1895 paper, but 100 years earlier, Benjamin Franklin, inventor of all things useful, pondered a similar question in a letter to the editor of the Journal of Paris:
I looked at my watch, which goes very well, and found that it was but six o’clock; and still thinking it something extraordinary that the sun should rise so early, I looked into the almanac, where I found it to be the hour given for his rising on that day. I looked forward, too, and found he was to rise still earlier every day till towards the end of June; and that at no time in the year he retarded his rising so long as till eight o’clock. Your readers, who with me have never seen any signs of sunshine before noon, and seldom regard the astronomical part of the almanac, will be as much astonished as I was, when they hear of his rising so early; and especially when I assure them, that he gives light as soon as he rises. I am convinced of this. I am certain of my fact. One cannot be more certain of any fact. I saw it with my own eyes. And, having repeated this observation the three following mornings, I found always precisely the same result.
Adjusting to a new system of sleeping and waking, based not on clocks but on the sun itself, Franklin, argued, would be simple:
All the difficulty will be in the first two or three days; after which the reformation will be as natural and easy as the present irregularity; for, ce n’est que le premier pas qui coûte. Oblige a man to rise at four in the morning, and it is more than probable he will go willingly to bed at eight in the evening; and, having had eight hours sleep, he will rise more willingly at four in the morning following.
What’s more, he claimed, the people of France would save hundreds of francs a year on candlesif they slept when it was dark and woke when it was light, artificial illumination would no longer be a necessity.
Franklin was prepared to give his idea to the world for a low, low fee:
I demand neither place, pension, exclusive privilege, nor any other reward whatever. I expect only to have the honour of it.
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