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Ask Your Elders about The Uniform Time Act

Ask Your Elders

Following on the heels of last week’s “ask your elders about healthcare” post, and given the Spring Forward event this Sunday, I thought the Universal Time Act would be another great conversation for you (or your kids) to have with your parents (or their grandparents).

Daylight Savings

Twice a year, we gather around the water cooler to complain about the time change, one way or the other. And lately, for reasons that surpass explanation*, we’ve even changed when we do it — now having four to five more weeks of daylight savings than the other parts of the world that currently celebrate it (though not exactly, it’s basically only the US, Europe, and parts of Australia that do).

As if celebrating daylight savings on different days than the rest of the world wasn’t confusing enough, it’s not even the case that all of the U.S. states celebrate it (Arizona and Hawaii currently do not). But at least that’s an improvement. I still remember when our neighbor to the west had half the state celebrating it and half not.

The Universal Time Act

Daylight savings time is confusing enough, and has changed often enough. But what’s really worth asking your elders about is life before the Uniform Time Act of 1966. I feel quite confident that life before the Act directly led to the 1966 recording of To Morrow by The Kingston Trio.


The fact that the opening line references Ohio is, I assure you, completely accidental.

I started on a journey about a year ago to a little town called Morrow in the State of Ohio.
    I’ve never been much of a traveler, and I really didn’t know that Morrow was the hardest place I’d ever try to go.

    So I went down to the station for my ticket and applied for tips regarding Morrow not expecting to beguiled.
    Said I, “My friend, I’d like to go to Morrow and return no later than tomorrow for I haven’t time to burn.”

    Said he to me, “Now let me see if I have heard you right. You’d like to go to Morrow and return tomorrow night.
    You should have gone to Morrow yesterday and back today for the train that goes to Morrow is a mile upon its way.

    If you had gone to Morrow yesterday now don’t you see, you could have gone to Morrow and returned today at three
    For the train today to Morrow, if the schedule is right, today it goes to Morrow and returns tomorrow night.”

    Said I, “My friend, it seems to me you’re talking through your hat. There is a town named Morrow on the line now tell me that.”
    “There is,” said he, “but take me a quiet little tip. To go from here to Morrow is a fourteen hour trip.

    The train today to Morrow leaves today at eight thirty-five. At half-past ten to Morrow is the time it should arrive.
    So if from here to Morrow is a fourteen hour jump, can you go today to Morrow and get back today, you chump?”

    Said I, “I’d like to go to Morrow so can I go today and get to Morrow by tonight if there is no delay?”
    “Well, well,” said he to me, “and I’ve got no more to say. Can’t get anywhere tomorrow and get back again today.”

    Said I, “I guess you know it all but kindly let me say, how can I get to Morrow if I leave this town today?”
    Said he, “You cannot go to Morrow any more today ’cause the train that goes to Morrow is a mile upon its way.”

    I was so disappointed. I was mad enough to swear. The train had gone to Morrow and had left me standing there.
    That man was right in telling me that I was a-howling jay. I could not go to Morrow so I guess in town I’ll stay.

You see, before the Uniform Time Act, time wasn’t … well … uniform. Every state and municipality had their own rules. According to Seize the Daylight by David Prerau, “because some of the towns along the way [from Moundsville, West Virginia, to Steubenville, Ohio — again, Ohio reference unintentional!] observed [daylight saving time] and others did not, passengers had to change their watches seven different times along that 35-mile route”.

Now, there’s something you should be asking your parents and grandparents about. I’m sure anyone who was an adult by the mid 60s has some amazing stories to tell about this, and isn’t at all flummoxed by our current Daylight Savings Time nonsense.

For more on the history of daylight savings (including some Ben Franklin myth busting), check out The Strange and Surprising History of Daylight Saving Time by National Geographic.

* Apparently, at least part of the explanation is that one of the Representatives from our crazy state to the north wanted to extend the number of daylight hours available to children for trick-or-treating on Halloween.