Before the United States had daylight saving time, it had "war time."
In February 1942, the whole country went over to war time. That meant everybody set their clocks forward an hour, so they were on the equivalent of daylight saving time at all times of year, which saved money and was more efficient, writes Andrew Glass for Politico. The measure was repealed in September 1945, but the wording of the repeal allowed “each state and even some counties to revert to setting their clocks to whatever ‘standard’ they chose to follow within their jurisdictions,” Glass writes.
The result was chaos, with some states observing extended versions of daylight saving time and others never moving off it at all. “It was not unheard of to have to reset watches several times during a relatively short trip,” Glass said.
Then in 1966, Congress passed the Uniform Time Act, standardizing the observation of daylight saving time. The law was revised in 1972 and 1986 to fine-tune it, before the dates of daylight saving time were established under the Energy Policy Act of 2005. That's when daylight saving time time was set to begin on the second Sunday of March and end on the first Sunday of November, and that's when we "spring forward" and "fall back" today (unless you're in Arizona or Hawaii, which still don't observe DST).
If this sounds complicated, that’s because it is. The idea of daylight saving time goes back at least as far as Benjamin Franklin, writes David Murray for the Great Falls Tribune. While stationed in France as the American ambassador, the inventor and politician figured out that Parisians could save literally millions of modern dollars in candles each year “if they simply shifted their clocks back an hour each spring to make better use of the extra daylight.”
This original proposal was almost certainly satire, Murray writes, and it didn’t take off right away. Then during WWI, Germany adopted “fast time,” which was just daylight saving time by another name. “The act was quickly followed in both Great Britain and France, where it was also credited with getting in an extra hour for the cultivation of war gardens,” Murray writes. It reached the U.S. in 1818, where it was met by post-war resistance by American dairy farmers and others, and quickly repealed. The question didn’t arise again until the 1942 act was signed into law.
As Murray reports Time Magazine wrote in 1963, it was truly “a chaos of time.”