When Daylight Saving Time Was Illegal

3 minute read

When Daylight Saving Time begins this year on Mar. 8, Americans are likely to turn their clocks forward with a minimum of grumbling over the lost hour — at least compared to the objections that were raised when it was first implemented. The idea of moving the clock around in order to maximize the useful hours of sunlight, thus saving the fuel otherwise needed for lights, was originally a wartime idea. Individual localities might choose to move forward or back, but the end of World War I meant the end of federal daylight saving. The option to decide on a case-by-case basis led cities and states across the country to take up proverbial arms — or, rather, clock hands — for or against.

The battle over the clocks raged for decades. People who liked having sunlight early in the day raged against those who privileged daylight in the evening. But few places had it as bad as Connecticut did in 1923, as TIME reported:

A bill is before the Legislature to make public display of a clock showing any time save Eastern Standard punishable by $100 or ten days in prison. Departments of the State and all institutions receiving State aid would be prohibited from altering their schedules to conform in effect to daylight-saving time.

This is another step in the fight of Connecticut farmers against city dwellers to prevent daylight saving. A year ago, having a majority in the Legislature, the farmers passed a bill against daylight saving, but provided no penalties for failure to comply with the law. The mayors of several cities forthwith issued proclamations recommending the townspeople to advance their clocks. The Legislature angrily protested and threatened to suspend the charter of Hartford, the State Capital. On the day agreed upon for putting daylight saving into effect the merchants turned their clocks ahead. At noon the whistles blew an hour early, and the clerks walked out of the Legislature, leaving the farmer members, unable to continue business, angrily sputtering in their chairs. Later a member from a city constituency offered a bill to provide four commissioners at salaries of $10,000 a year to go about the streets, examine the watches of citizens and take those to jail who used daylight saving time.

The outcome of the whole matter was that the cities used daylight-saving time, while the executive and judicial departments of the State and the railroads kept their clocks at Standard time, but moved their schedules an hour ahead.

Now the farmers intend to put “teeth” into the law.

The law passed, forbidding the “willful display in any public building, street, avenue, or public highway of any time-measuring instrument or device, which is calculated or intended to furnish time to the general public, set or running so as to indicate any other than the standard time.” A state supreme court upheld the law in 1924.

But, clock-changers of Connecticut, fear not. Not every state observes daylight saving time today — but Connecticut does.

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Write to Lily Rothman at lily.rothman@time.com