pendulum clock
Pendulum clock, Indiana State Museum, Indianapolis


In most of America, and in much of the world, Daylight Saving Time seems simple: you just set your clock back an hour. But not everyone does. That's where it gets complicated (via):

But nothing compares to the adventures in time-travel undertaken by our neighbors in Indiana. During the 20th century, daylight saving time caused fissures between city mice and country mice. In 1949, it caused a fight on the state legislature's floor:

In 1949, the Indiana Senate quietly passes a bill that would keep the state on Central time and outlaw daylight-saving time. When the bill reaches the House, there is mayhem on the floor as legislators representing cities (which generally favor fast time) battle legislators from agricultural areas (where changing the clock at all is considered "unnatural" and "unhealthy for cows").

Lacking enough votes, the city faction tries to filibuster until time runs out on the session at midnight, but rural champion Rep. Herbert Copeland, R-Madison, leans over the gallery railing and forces the official clock back to 9 p.m., breaking it in the process. The clock sticks on 9 as the debate rages on into the night. The filibuster finally dies out and the bill passes, while outside the chamber, clocks read 3:30 a.m.

Basically, the state has been divided between people who want to sync up with the cityfolk in the East (not just New York, but Cincinnati and Louisville), those who want to sync up with Chicago, and farmers who wanted nothing to do with daylight saving time. And while the state has been observing DST since 2006—the measure, backed by Gov. Mitch Daniels, just barely passed—Indiana time still raises controversy: how midwestern is Indiana?

"By our geographical location, we are most definitely in the Central time zone," said Jim Disney, Central Time Coalition.


"A lot of my work is on the east coast. East lines up better time wise for me," said Dennis Keyes, who is for staying in the Eastern time zone.

Experts like UIndy professor Matt Will agree. Indiana's ties to New York are stronger than to Chicago. But Central time zone advocates will take it back to the legislature this year.

Indiana's heterodox approach to time-telling, while it's caused no small amount of confusion over the years for Hoosiers, has made the state a nice place to study daylight saving time. In 2008, economists from UC-Santa Barbara used the state's change to DST to examine whether daylight saving time does, as promised, save energy (emphasis mine):

This paper takes advantage of a natural experiment in the state of Indiana to provide the first empirical estimates of DST effects on electricity consumption in the United States since the mid-1970s. Focusing on residential electricity demand, we conduct the first-ever study that uses micro-data on households to estimate an overall DST effect…. Our main finding is that—contrary to the policy's intent—DST increases residential electricity demand. Estimates of the overall increase are approximately 1 percent…. DST causes the greatest increase in electricity consumption in the fall, when estimates range between 2 and 4 percent. These findings are consistent with simulation results that point to a tradeoff between reducing demand for lighting and increasing demand for heating and cooling. We estimate a cost of increased electricity bills to Indiana households of $9 million per year. We also estimate social costs of increased pollution emissions that range from $1.7 to $5.5 million per year. Finally, we argue that the effect is likely to be even stronger in other regions of the United States.

What's the tradeoff between light and heat?

In all months, other than October, DST saves on electricity used for lighting; therefore, it appears that the “Benjamin Franklin effect” is occurring. But when it comes to cooling and heating, the clear pattern is that DST causes an increase in electricity consumption….

Moving an hour of sunlight from the early morning to the evening (relative to clock time) increases electricity consumption for cooling because (i) demand for cooling is greater in the evening and (ii) the build-up of solar radiation throughout the day means that the evening is hotter….

When temperatures are such that heating is necessary, having an additional hour of darkness in the morning, which is the coldest time of day, increases electricity consumption.

In short, the benefits of coming home to a still-sunlit house are outweighed by the problems of coming home to a hotter house—a disparity increased, as suggested in the video, by the fact that people spend more of their leisure time indoors.

So daylight saving time: bad for Indiana, bad for the world. But sometimes you just have to succumb to peer pressure, as Indiana finally did after decades of resistance. One Indiana economist, during the debate, suggested that "prosperity is just an hour away." And Dale Bremmer, an economist at Rose-Hulman, looked back on the state's first few years of DST and concluded that the evening sun didn't turn the streets to gold, but it did improve employment numbers:

[T]he simple statistical model presented here shows that even in the midst of the longest recession since World War II, the policy change requiring statewide observance of daylight saving time in Indiana led to a small but statistically significant increase in the monthly employment levels in those counties that initially refused to spring forward and fall back every year.

When Mitch Daniels finally runs for president in 2016, the slogan "it's daylight saving time in America" is on me.


Photograph: Paul J. Everett (CC by 2.0)