William Willett


The man who altered time is born in 1856.

10-08-2010_William_Willett.mp3 Listen on Posterous

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It was an early summers morning in the late 1800’s in England. William Willett, who was born on this day in history in 1856, was a builder who worked with his father at Willett Building Services and was taking a pre-breakfast ride on his horse in Petts Wood near his home when he noticed with dismay how many blinds were still down in the surrounding houses. Though it was already light outside, the people of the London suburb were still sleeping and so the idea for daylight saving time first occurred to him.

Music credit Time by Pink Floyd

Using his own financial resources, in 1907 William published a pamphlet titled “The Waste of Daylight” and in it he proposed that the clocks should be advanced by 80 minutes in the summer by advancing them 20 minutes at a time at 2 am on successive Sundays in April. The evenings would then remain light for longer, increasing daylight recreation time; Willett was an avid golfer and disliked cutting short his round at dusk and also saving £2.5 million in lighting costs. In September, the clocks could then be retarded by the same method.

However, this was not the first time that the idea of adapting to daylight hours had been proposed or even implemented. Ancient Roman water clocks had different scales for different months of the year and it was not uncommon for daylight to be divided into twelve equal hours regardless of day length, so that each daylight hour was longer during summer.

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Benjamin Franklin, author of the proverb, “Early to bed, and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise”, anonymously published a letter suggesting that Parisians economize on candles by rising earlier to use morning sunlight. This 1784 satire proposed taxing shutters, rationing candles, and waking the public by ringing church bells and firing cannons at sunrise.

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Music credit Saturn, the Bringer of Old Age by Gustav Holst

More seriously, and unbeknown to William Willett, modern DST was actually first proposed by the New Zealand entomologist George Vernon Hudson, whose shift-work job gave him leisure time to collect insects, and made him aware of the value of after-hours daylight.

And yet, while many publications incorrectly credit modern DST’s invention to Willett over Hudson, it was his tireless promotion of the idea which helped it gain acceptance. Through vigorous campaigning, by 1908 Willett had managed to gain the support of a Member of Parliament, Robert Pearce, who made several unsuccessful attempts to get it passed into law and even a young Winston Churchill promoted it for a time.

However, it was not until the outbreak of the First World War when the issue was made more important primarily because of the need to save coal and a new bill was proposed as a wartime production-boosting device under the Defence of the Realm Act. On May 17th, 1916, the bill was passed through Parliament and the clocks were advanced by an hour on the following Sunday, the 21st of May.

Unfortunately, William did not live to see daylight saving become law, as he died of influenza in 1915 at the age of 58 and was buried in the churchyard at St Wulfran’s Church in the city of Brighton and Hove.

Music credit Clocks by Coldplay

William Willett is commemorated in Petts Wood, where he first thought of the idea, by a memorial sundial, set permanently to daylight saving time. The Daylight Inn in Petts Wood is named in his honour as is the road Willett Way and coincidentally, he is the great-great grandfather of Chris Martin, lead singer of the band Coldplay whose song Clocks, MacKenzie Wilson of Allmusic points out, metaphorically alludes to the pushing of one to wonder about the world’s obsession with time while connecting it to the theory that we’re to make the best of it when we’re here, present and alive.

And that’s this day in history for Tuesday, August 10th, 2010. I’m Dan Harlow, thanks for listening.

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Source: http://historystack.posterous.com/william-willett

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This entry was published on May 6, 2012 at 2:04 am and is filed under Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

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