Bosch’s hour: time changes in the modern history

Paper presented at the summer-time conference – 17 May 2011, Senate of the Parliament of the Czech Republic

The first concepts of the DST implementation appeared at the end of 18th century and were connected with the person of Benjamin Franklin, who in one of his essays dealt with a question how to make better use of daylight with the view of economizing candle usage.  However, this topic became a seriously considered issue along with the society modernization, especially with the introduction of the international train transportation, which at the end of 19th century necessitated the implementation of standard Central European time.

However, the clock changes were not introduced until World War I. In 1916 the DST was implemented in Sweden and then in Germany and in its allied country of Austria-Hungary. Thus the concept was first introduced in the Czech countries as well. It was not popular with people anywhere. In France the unpopular concept was nicknamed “bosch’s hour”. However, it is necessary to add that to a certain extent the then regulation followed the natural human biorhythm and the clocks were set one hour ahead for the period between 1st May and 30th September.  In Britain the clocks changed even later, in mid May. After the WW1 this measure was quickly reverted. However, it is interesting that in France it took longer than in Germany.

During WWII the summer-time was applied continuously from 1st April 1940 to 4th October 1942 and further during the summer months of 1943 till 1949. The ground for this measure was a purely economical idea of increasing the production of the arms industry in the context of the extended period of daylight in the evening, as at night there was compulsory darkening, which complicated the industry production. After the war there naturally were economical reasons. However, at that time there was certain logic in the measure, as the consumption in the context of the total costs was about 25-30%.

After WWII the clock changes were applied in certain parts of Europe; in Germany in occupational zones the clocks were set two hours forth. At that time Czechoslovakia adopted unique winter-time starting on 1st December 1946, which meant setting the clock one hour back compared to the Central European time. There were economical grounds for the implementation of the winter-time, “especially the insufficient performance in power-stations, which are in a difficult situation even now, as they lack about  10% of the output in kWk necessary to manage the morning and evening rush hours, which fall between 7a.m. and 8 a.m., resp. 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. CET. By means of implementation of the winter time it will be possible to assure uninterrupted electricity supplies.”

However, the changes of summer and winter-time in Europe were abandoned at the end of 1940s and then, for almost three decades, the standard Central European time (it means the winter time) was applied.  Thoughts of the DST restoration appeared mostly due to the oil crisis after the Israeli – Arabian war “Jom Kippur” in October 1973, which led to sharp increase in oil prices and the resulting long-standing economic recession in Western Europe. First the situation was solved by means of the implementation of no-car days and restriction of motor-vehicle transport, but in the view of further economic losses the change of clocks was adopted to solve the situation. First, it was adopted in France and several other countries, but each of the countries used it for different periods (e.g. in Italy in 1970s the DST was used only from the end of May till the end of September). The DST was to be adopted in most European countries in 1978. However, employee unions in some countries (especially in Austria and Germany) spoke against it. They pointed out the difficulties that early rising brought to village children who had to walk to school, or to pregnant women. That was why e.g. German labour unions used the act on the protection of mothers as an argument. Strict “no” was presented by parties oriented on rural voters as, in their opinion, the DST suited only the people in towns. Due to the concern about the loss of voters’ favour, in 1970s the time was not united. The idea started to be promoted at the beginning of 1980s.

Especially problematic situation occurred in the Federal Republic of Germany (BRD), which –mostly due to the city of Berlin - had to conform to its western neighbours as well as to German Democratic Republic (DDR) to avoid the separation of Berlin not only by the wall, but also by different time changes. That is why the DST was jointly implemented in 1980. However, there was an analysis of 1976 indicating that ‘more light in the evening does not mean energy savings’, moreover, as early as then, experts worried that instead of energy saving the change could mean its increase.

One of the longest resisting countries was Switzerland. There the implementation of the DST was refused in a referendum in May 1978. People disagreed not just regarding their own health disorders, but also with regard to their animals. However, despite the referendum the federal parliament decided to implement the DST in 1981 with the view of harmonization of transport with neighbouring countries.

Concerning Czechoslovakia, the adoption of the DST was greatly influenced by the weather. At the beginning of 1979 the country was hit by abnormally strong frost that lasted for several weeks and caused massive fluctuations in electricity supplies. As a result, the supplies were cut off for several hours in the evenings. The presumption was that setting the clocks one hour forward would significantly decrease the electricity consumption in the evenings. That also was one of the main arguments for the permanent reimplementation of the DST.  Other arguments for such a measure were, among others, the increase in productivity and efficiency of afternoon working shifts and greater comfort for leisure activities and during holidays. The latter is one of the most frequent today’s arguments for the observance of the DST. Then, the health disorders and complications in agriculture were not taken into consideration; according to the then comments, the only significant difficulties occurred in relation to international fast trains. Other objections were extinguished by a statement that our regime would not be changed so much that we would not be able to cope with the possible complications in family and personal life. In 1979 1st April became the official date for the commencement of the DST. In the following year the clocks changed on the first Sunday in April. According to the information presented in the communist press the change brought the savings reaching 5-10%. From 1981 the DST regularly started at the last weekend in March and ended at the last September weekend. This was changed by the European Parliament directive under which the DST lasts until the end of October. This started in 1996 and it is interesting that then the Portuguese government did not apply the change as the expression of its citizens’ dissatisfaction. However, the protest lasted for a year only.

It is obvious that the issue of the DST was already discussed in the past and it is possible to say that it was accepted with great controversy. I believe that even today it is necessary to lead a serious discussion on the topic and deliberate the possibilities of harmonizing the natural interests concerning human biological rhythms with economical and other interests.

doc. Mgr. Jaroslav Šebek, Ph.D.